At the July 21 meeting of the UI Board of Trustees on the UIC campus, university trustees voted 6-2 to close the Institute of Aviation and end the undergraduate degree program.
The institute, which opened in 1945, will likely close its doors at the end of the 2013-14 school year, after all current students have completed the program.
Robert Easter, who was interim chancellor and vice president at the time of the July meeting, told trustees he recommended closing the program because of its high cost and declining enrollment.
Closing the institute, “the smallest degree-generating unit,” could save the campus about $750,000 per year, Easter said.
Since 2002, applications have decreased by 63 percent and enrollment has dropped 52 percent. Last fall, 34 freshmen enrolled in the bachelor of science in aviation human factors program, and no students were admitted for the 2011-12 academic year, Easter said.
The university will explore partnerships with local community colleges to provide a flight training program for undergraduates, he said. The institute’s graduate program in human factors, which does not require flight training, will be housed in the Graduate College.
Five tenure-track faculty members at the institute moved into tenure-track positions in other campus units, such as engineering and education, Easter said.
University trustees said the decision to eliminate the program was difficult. Trustees Timothy Koritz and Ricardo Estrada – as well as student trustees Hannah Ehrenberg, Kenneth Thomas and John Tienken, who have an advisory vote – voted against closing the institute. Board chairman Christopher Kennedy left the meeting early and did not vote.
“Given the financial condition that we find the university and state in, we need to continue to make difficult decisions going forward,” said trustee Pamela Strobel.
Koritz, who learned to fly at the institute, said he wanted to ensure that every possibility to continue providing aviation training to UI students is explored.
“The death sentence won’t happen until 2014, and I hope that we make an enthusiastic effort to find a partnership,” he said.
Trustee Lawrence Oliver, a lawyer for Boeing Co., said his professional experience made him sympathetic to the need for academic aviation programs, “but the dwindling numbers speak for themselves.
He encouraged trustees to revisit the issue at a future board meeting to monitor the progress of discussions about flight training partnerships.