Chancellor Bradley Byrne, Ozark leaders hail progress at college, decry misinformation campaign
Ozark, Ala. - In a Wednesday afternoon news conference staged in front of a new $10 million Aviation Training Center, Alabama Community College System Chancellor Bradley Byrne decried as "sleazy" and "irresponsible" a misinformation campaign launched Tuesday to convince Ozark citizens that he planned to shutter their local community college campus.
Dozens of calls were received Tuesday evening by the chancellor and state Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) from concerned Ozark citizens who said they had received pre-recorded calls urging them to protest the supposed closure of the Ozark campus, and claiming that all aviation training was to be moved to Mobile.
"For the life of me, I cannot understand why someone would go to the trouble of creating a pre-recorded phone tree to spread lies about the proposed de-merger of Enterprise-Ozark Community College," Byrne said. "This is an expensive, sophisticated tactic designed to discredit our effort to expand the Ozark campus by converting it to the Alabama Aviation College. This $10 million facility I'm standing in front of should be proof enough that the Department of Postsecondary Education and the Governor's Office on Workforce Development have invested heavily in this campus in order to continue Alabama's mission to provide a world-class education in aviation technology.
"Aviation is a critical component of our state's booming economy," Byrne added, "and for someone using an expensive anonymous calling system to suggest that we would abandon our Ozark facility would be laughable if it weren't such a juvenile, irresponsible and upsetting prank on the people of Ozark.
"It was a cheap trick, but not inexpensive," Byrne said. "Someone had to have spent several thousand dollars on this phone campaign. And for what purpose?"
Byrne said that he has recommended to the State Board of Education that the Enterprise-Ozark Community College - which previously was two separate colleges before it was merged into one operation - be de-merged in order to form a brand new college, the Alabama Aviation College, which will be situated on the existing EOCC campus in Ozark. "This new college will represent an enhancement of facilities there, certainly not closure," Byrne said.
The State Board of Education is expected to vote in its December 13 meeting whether to separate the Mobile and Ozark aviation campuses, and associated aviation instructional sites, from Enterprise-Ozark Community College (EOCC). This action would create a new institution with the singular focus of providing training for employment in the aviation industry.
The current and projected demand for aircraft maintenance and avionics technicians in Alabama demonstrates the need to expand our capacity to prepare individuals for employment in the aviation industry. Aircraft maintenance and avionics technicians starting pay ranges from $15 to $20 per hour throughout the state. Occupational demand and rate of pay make aviation a high-growth, high-wage industry in Alabama.
"Aviation maintenance and avionics technology are highly specialized fields," said Matthew Hughes, director of workforce development for the two-year college system and director of the Governor's Office on Workforce Development. "Aviation maintenance training is closely regulated and supervised by the Federal Aviation Administration. An institution with a single focus and specialty ensures that the training programs adhere to the requisite curriculum, recordkeeping, and instructional quality. Having a single mission of aviation training enables an institution and its employees to develop world-class technologies and instruction. Such an institution becomes an economic development engine because of the assurance employers have of an available and highly-skilled workforce."
Hughes went on to note that aviation training programs are the most expensive to operate in Alabama Community College System and create a significant financial hardship on a comprehensive community college, which must allocate limited resources across numerous programs, services, and activities.
"Aviation is a high-growth, high-wage industry in Alabama," Byrne said. A statewide aviation institution ensures consistency in quality and a uniform message in industrial recruitment efforts and sends the signal to employers that Alabama is committed to the aviation industry and is an aviation-friendly place to locate or expand a business. A single institution reduces bureaucracy and is more responsive to industry and community needs.