Pay Attention to California School Regs

By Scott Spangler on June 7th, 2010

Flight schools and instructors nationwide should be paying close attention to California Assembly Bill 48 (AB-48), which imposes new requirements (and fees that pay for their administration by the Bureau of Private Post-secondary Education) on those who educate pilots aspiring to an aviation career. (Schools and CFIs that teach people to fly for recreation are exempt.) This is legislation that could easily travel to other states. If they want to avoid the situation those in California now face, schools and instructors must break out of their aviation cocoons and get proactive.

CA-BPPE Breaking out of the cocoon in critical. AB-48 makes clear that flight schools and instructors are not in the aviation business. They are in the education business, specifically post-secondary education, which AB-48 conventionally  defines: “Postsecondary education” means a formal institutional educational program whose curriculum is designed primarily for students who have completed or terminated their secondary education or are beyond the compulsory age of secondary education, including programs whose purpose is academic, vocational, or continuing professional education.

In response to AB-48 many schools and CFIs say they are already regulated by the FAA. And when it comes to the subject they teach—aviation—that’s true. Nearly three dozen other fields, from acupuncture and auto repair to  engineering and veterinary medicine, are in the same situation. There are an estimated 400,000 students paying more than $4.5 billion in tuition to private post-secondary schools in roughly three dozen career fields, and, like aviation, each of them must meet the minimum  knowledge and skill standards for their chosen field.  AB-48 is all about the business operations at these schools, not the curriculum. (See my previous post on the subject: California Requires Pro Training Standards That Don’t Involve Stick & Rudder Education.)

Aviation was exempt from the old post-secondary regs, and the Initial Statement of Reasons explains why AB-48 “Repeal[ed] section 73470 (FAA Certified Flight Schools) – “This section is obsolete because it is based on the former law.” The same rationale applies to truck drivers and others, so it’s not just about aviation. The tacit reiteration is that AB-48 is not about what a school teaches, but rather the sound operation of an educational institution, which includes protecting students.

Looking at it another way, no matter what their course of study, had private post-secondary schools followed accepted educational business practices, legislators wouldn’t have to impose the requirements on all of them to protect students from the unscrupulous few.

Some schools are exempt from AB-48, and their common denominator is that they have been accredited by an agency approved by the US Department of Education. Having participated in two reaccreditation exercises at the private college-prep military school I worked for, the standards, from reports to site visits, mirrored AB-48’s requirements.

ASSCS The same is true for the  accreditation standards of the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). Like AB-48, ACCSC serves a variety of educational disciplines. It has accredited 31 aviation schools, 16 for A&Ps, 10 for pilots, four technical colleges that train one, the other, or both, and one for dispatchers.

Initial ACCSC accreditation takes 18 to 24 months and costs $10,000 or more, and schools must renew their accreditation every three years. The primary benefit, aside from guaranteeing students that they will get the education they pay for (or a tuition refund if the school closes), is that accreditation qualifies a school for federal student aid funds.

Its requirements and fees aside, AB-48’s one-size-fits-all legislation is hits small schools harder than large ones, especially in aviation. Flight training institutions range from Part-141 behemoths with a faculty of a hundred or more to a single, freelance instructor preparing a student for a commercial or CFI checkride. Educating state legislators about this range before they write new requirements requires less traumatic effort than dealing with it after the fact, as California schools and CFIs are now doing.

The California case also makes it clear that schools and instructors cannot depend on aviation associations and journalists to be proactive for them. AB-48 became news well after California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the legislation into law on October 11, 2009.  To avoid an AB-48 surprise that could put your state’s flight training future in jeopardy, start learning about the education business and its applicable requirements now. –Scott Spangler

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3 Responses to “Pay Attention to California School Regs”

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