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Student loans may launch for RTC's aerospace training

By Maida Suljevic
WNPA Olympia News Bureau

For students enrolled in aerospace-industry courses at Renton Technical College, a bill proposed in the Legislature to extend the Aerospace Training Student Loan Program (ALP), if passed, could alleviate some of the stress of paying for tuition.

The House Committee on Education Appropriations and Oversight unanimously voted the bill out of committee on Feb. 2.

The new legislation, House Bill 2292, would amend an existing statute and would mandate that students enrolled in aerospace industry courses at Renton Technical College be eligible for ALP.

The Legislature created the special loan program in 2011. Loans are made available for students registered for courses at the Washington Aerospace Training and Research (WATR) Center program based at Paine Field in Everett, and the Spokane Aerospace Technology (SAT) program.

The research center was created in 2010 and provides educational resources for students who want to enter the aerospace industry. Edmonds Community College manages the program in Everett through an operating agreement. The Renton Technical College program is an affiliate.

Many of the program's graduates go on to apply at Boeing. Students may complete the program for college credit or to receive a core-skills certificate, an assembly-mechanic's certificate or an electrical-assembly certificate, said Larry Cluphf, program director in Everett.

"WATR students don't qualify for federal loans because the program is only 17 weeks long," Cluphf said.

The program at Renton Technical College was launched last August, said Susanna Williams the college's media relations and foundation director.

Since it opened 30 students have gone through the program. Of those students, none were eligible for a loan, said Williams.

About 56 students were enrolled in the core-skills certificate program in Everett in January while 20 students were enrolled in the electrical-assembly certificate program, and 19 students were enrolled in the assembly-mechanic certificate program at Renton, said Cluphf. A total of 661 graduates have gone through the program.

Cluphf anticipates an increase in enrollment for the month of February and projections are continuously changing.

Katharine Huey was an English instructor in Japan for many years before enrolling in the WATR program. She graduated from Everett in 2010 before the legislation that created the ALP was enacted. "I had to have a loan from my parents," said Huey. She remembers paying out of pocket to complete the program.

"It was a really great investment for me," she said. When asked if she would apply for a loan if she had the opportunity, Huey said, "Absolutely."

Huey is now a peer coordinator at Boeing.

According to Williams, the Legislature granted ALP additional funds during its special session in December. Those funds were also made available to Renton Technical College. However, that funding would be discontinued at the end of the current biennium.

The new legislation would amend the 2011 law to provide funds to the ALP to be distributed to programs at Everett, Spokane and Renton Technical College.

Students eligible for a loan could receive up to $4,800 for the 17-week training program. Students receive the loan in two installments. The first installment is $2,400 to complete the online segment of the training. Once successfully completed, they receive another $2,400 to pay for the classroom training.

The loans are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Students in the three programs are trained to enter the aerospace industry so the curriculum is based on industry needs stated Cluphf.

"You walk in and it looks like they're making airplane parts," said Williams.

According to Cluphf, the Legislature appropriated $250,000 from the general fund to ALP in July 2011. That funding has increased to $1.25 million for 2012 to 2013. "There's a demand," said Cluphf.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board administers the loans through Edmonds Community College. According to Julie Japhet, the associate director at the board, about 250 loans could be distributed with the Legislature's additional funding.

During the first year of the program the board administered 51 loans.

"We had way more applicants than we had money to give out," said Japhet.

Cluphf believes that aerospace industry businesses in Washington state want to hire the graduates from the WATR program.

The bill still must pass through both chambers of the Legislature and the governor must sign the measure before funds are provided through ALP.

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