Veterans just months away from earning their commercial pilot license are losing their funding from the VA starting Thursday.
It comes after the Oklahoma State Accrediting Agency said it’s not reinstating the Spartan Flight Campus in Tulsa.
A lot of these flight students came from across the country to study at Spartan.
It’s a big blow and it’s tied to the nationwide pilot shortage.
The college says it is correcting the problems and is urging the VA to let the veterans use their benefits to finish.
“You just don’t want to stop. You could spend all day in the air,” said Army veteran Nick Seay.
Seay says Spartan was the only option.
“The tip of the spear as far as aviation goes,” he said.
Seay has wanted to fly planes since he was 8 years old, but now that dream is up in the air.
He says “it was just a complete blindside to us.”
Sixteen veterans just found out Tuesday that the VA is pulling their funding.
“They’ve uprooted their whole lives just to come to this program,” Seay said.
Students are supposed to earn their license in about 12 months, but that’s not happening.
“We were visited by the Oklahoma State Accrediting Agency, who let us know that they would not be recommending reinstatement due to the bottleneck that we’re experiencing,” said Kari Pahno from Spartan College.
That bottleneck, a pilot shortage, means there aren’t enough instructors.
“A few months ago, we had about ten students to one instructor,” Pahno said. “Now, that has dropped to seven to one.”
The campus president says they’re offering competitive rates and also bought seven new planes.
The college sent the accrediting agency a letter urging the VA to let the students receive their benefits through graduation.
“We feel like we were entitled to these benefits,” declared Seay. “We held up our end of the deal by serving our time, honorably discharged, and we expect those benefits.”
The veterans say the VA representatives just promised them two weeks ago that current students would continue to get their benefits, so they feel lied to.
The college hopes to start enrolling new students again in about six months.
Gina Wekke, Executive Director of the Oklahoma State Accrediting Agency, sent the following statement to News On 6 on Thursday:
Issues regarding Spartan’s programs, particularly the flight program, were identified and referred to the OKSAA, which has state jurisdiction over Spartan’s program approval. After reviewing the issues, OKSAA determined it was necessary to suspend new enrollments for VA education payments on April 9, 2018. At that time, the school was notified it had 60 days to correct deficiencies, with a hearing scheduled June 8 with the OKSAA board to determine the final outcome. Spartan addressed the issues identified for correction. After reviewing Spartan’s response to suspension, OKSAA conducted conference calls with Spartan officials, reviewed Spartan materials, conducted two site visits that involved interviews with students, instructors, and administrators, and reviewed student records. Please note the following facts:
OKSAA found no issues with Spartan’s non-flight programs. The institution and those programs were reinstated effective April 9 (negates the suspension for VA payment purposes). In other words, VA education benefits will paid to Spartan and the 160 veterans enrolled in those programs.
“It comes after the OKSAA said it’s not reinstating the Spartan Flight Campus in Tulsa.” (President Pahno) Fact: Spartan requested the flight program’s withdrawal after hearing preliminary findings and given the option.
“The College sent the accrediting agency a letter urging the VA to let the students receive their benefits through graduation.” (President Pahno) Fact: As explained to Spartan officials, OKSAA has no authority over VA payments. However, we made Spartan aware that VA payment law does have a provision for extending payment to graduation in these circumstances.
"‘Spartan was the only option.” (student veteran impacted) Fact: Student veterans may use the VA education benefits to complete their program at other colleges approved in Oklahoma - Tulsa Community College (TCC), University of Oklahoma, and Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Several student veterans are exploring completion at TCC.
OKSAA’s role is oversight and quality assurance and protection of student veterans and beneficiaries using VA education benefits. Actions are based on facts and findings and are not arbitrary. We care deeply that student veterans were impacted, but we are required to take appropriate action when there are concerns about programs. It is the law. OKSAA advised Spartan that they may re-submit their flight programs for reconsideration when the issues that precipitated their withdrawal have been addressed.