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  • Don Himsel/Norstar Helicopter Daniel Webster College
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Daniel Webster College planes are parked at Boire Field in Nashua Wednesday, March 24, 2010, as flight program students meet with faculty who announced the school will be dropping the program.

  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Juniors Tim Daring of Maine, left, and Scudder Baggett from Connecticut, say they have no choice other than to finish the flight operations program at Daniel Webster College. The two said their credits won't transfer. Faculty and students at the school were told Wednesday, March 24, 2010, that the flight program will no longer accept incoming students, and that current students will be allowed to finish their degrees.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    A Daniel Webster College aircraft sits tied to the tarmack Wednesday, March 24, 2010, while student meet with faculty who announce the phasing out of the flight program.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    The Nicholas N. Tamposi Aviation Center at Daniel Webster College, which houses the school's aviation classrooms and the control tower for Boire Field.
  • Staff file photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    A Daniel Webster College training plane performs touch-and-go landings Wednesday, September 30, 2009, at Boire Field in Nashua.

  • Staff file photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    A plane takes off from Boire Field as Daniel Webster College planes sit idle on the tarmack Wednesday, September 30, 2009, at the Nashua Airport.

  • Staff file photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    A Daniel Webster College airplane sits idle next to the runway Wednesday, September 30, 2009, at Boire Field in Nashua.

  • Don Himsel/Norstar Helicopter Boire Field
  • Don Himsel/Norstar Helicopter Boire FieldD
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Incoming freshman Steven Pietsch, left, had already been accepted into Daniel Webster College's flight program and was planning on playing baseball for the college when he found out from his teachers at Nashua High School South Wednesday, March 24, 2010, that the program is cancelled. Looking on is his mother, Erica Lavalley and brother, Brandon. His grandmother sent him the old flying magazines as a gift.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Flight students' t-shirts hang over the front desk inside the Daniel Webster College Flight Clenter Wednesday, March 24, 2010.
Thursday, March 25, 2010

ITT grounds DWC flight program

NASHUA – Steven Pietsch saw his plans to study flight operations at Daniel Webster College this fall come crashing down Wednesday.

Pietsch, a senior at Nashua High School South and an aspiring pilot, learned about the college’s decision to eliminate the flight operations program, phasing it out over the next few years. The call did not come from anyone at the college, but from a guidance counselor at South who had read about the decision on a newspaper Web site.

“We just spoke to them about the financial aid last week and nothing was said to us at all,” said Erica Lavalley, Pietsch’s mother. “We were just totally blind-sided.”

Pietsch had already received his acceptance letter into the program dated March 1, telling him “You have been admitted as an aviation and flight operations major for the semester starting in September 2010.” Just last week, his family received a letter from the college detailing his financial aid package. The family is at a loss for what to do next.

“The last four years, this is what he worked for,” Lavalley said. “He’s busted his butt to get there.”

In closed-door meetings with faculty and students Wednesday, interim President Nadine Dowling said students currently enrolled in the program would still be able to complete their degrees. The air traffic control and aviation management programs would be maintained.

Last year, ITT Educational Services, a for-profit corporation, bought the private college, which had been struggling financially. Shortly after the purchase was

finalized, President Robert “Skip” Myers was fired and Dowling, who had headed up the ITT campus in Woburn, Mass., was brought in as a replacement. There have also been several layoffs.

Dowling would not say what factors led to the decision. She said students expressed disappointment during the meeting, which was closed to the media.

“It’s hard because this is a long-standing program,” she said. “There is a lot of emotion.”

A spokesperson for ITT on Wednesday declined comment, shedding no light as to what prompted the decision.

Recent published reports have pegged ITT’s takeover of Daniel Webster as a major money-making move, given DWC’s academic accreditation and the access it allows to government-funded financial aid. And it was no secret the flight school was the costliest program at the college.

Students enrolled in the program coming out of the meeting were visibly upset.

“Overall, it’s pretty disappointing,” said Scudder Baggett, a junior in the flight operations program. “It’s kind of a huge blow.”

Tim Daring, also a junior in the program, said that while he and other students will be able to finish and get their degrees, the value may be tainted with the program’s closure.

“Now we may have to worry as far as job opportunities go,” Daring said.

Students acknowledged they were concerned about their program when ITT acquired the college last year.

Also, the former dean of the aviation program, Triant Flouris, was forced to resign, Daring said.

“Once ITT came in, the dominos just started falling,” Baggett said. “This was bound to happed eventually.”

Last year, before the sale to ITT, the college responded to concerns from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges that its financial problems were so dire that it “involves putting into question historic elements of the college, in particular the future viability of the flight operations program.”

Officials indicated at the time that they were uncertain whether the resources existed to keep the flight program going.

Although it is ending, students praised the intensity of the flight operations program. Daring said he started with 110 students in the program his freshman year. Now there are only about a dozen left.

“It’s something you have to be dedicated to,” Daring said.

One student, who wished to remain anonymous, said the reason given for the decision was the return on investment for students was not enough, meaning pilots don’t make enough in their first few years to justify the cost.

Dowling didn’t have information about whether enrollment in the program has been declining or what will happen to the instructors once the program is phased out.

Dowling said the college made an effort Tuesday to reach out to students who had been accepted into the program to let them know, but Lavalley said she never got a phone call or an e-mail.

The total cost for the first year of tuition for Pietsch would have been $35,000, including the extra $10,000 for the flight program. After scholarships and financial aid, the cost for Pietsch would have been about $9,000. The plan was for him to live at home and commute.

The family did not apply to any other aviation programs, but said even if they had, they would have already informed other colleges about their decision for Pietsch to go to Daniel Webster.

The Lavalleys said they knew about the sale of the college to ITT and that raised red flags, especially since Lavalley’s mother-in-law worked for the college during the sale and urged them to be cautious.

That is why they waited until after attending an open house in November to apply for the flight operations program. The Lavalleys said college officials touted the program at the open house, saying how pilots are in high demand.

“They talked a good game,” said Shane Lavalley, Pietsch’s stepfather. “They said so many jobs are going to open for pilots. They said this is one of the best fields you could be going into.”

Pietsch said he’s always wanted to be a pilot and had spent his high school career aspiring to be a student at Daniel Webster College. He was wearing a brown DWC T-shirt on Wednesday.

“They said nothing can really be done,” Pietsch said, of his conversation with admissions Wednesday. They offered to send his application to other aviation schools or to enroll in another program at Daniel Webster, he said.

Pietsch has offered to his parents that he could wait a year to go to college or change his major. But his mother is having none of that. They have already looked into him going to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, but because of how late it is, there is no guarantee he can still be accepted.

Admissions officials from Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts have been following the decision in Nashua. They offer the only other four-year aviation degree in New England.

“We’re going to do anything we can to accommodate students who would like to come to Bridgewater,” said Greg Bongiorno, manager of the aviation program at the school.

The only issue may be housing for students, which has already been filled up, he said.

On Wednesday, Daniel Webster College added this note to its flight operations program listing on its Web site: “The Bachelor of Science degree program in Aviation Flight Operations will be phased out over the next several years as the students who are currently enrolled in the program are allowed the opportunity to graduate within the normal timeframe for completion. Effective immediately, no new classes will be started in this program.”

Although other programs, such as air traffic controlling, will remain for now, some students are still concerned. Chelsey Roberts, a sophomore in the air traffic control program, is worried her major could be next.

She and many other students are looking into leaving the college, she said.

“I’m nervous now that they’re going to keep pulling majors,” Roberts said. “I love the school. I didn’t think in a million years I would leave. It’s fifty-fifty now, honestly.”

Roberts was critical of the way administration handled the meeting with students.

“We weren’t done,” she said. “We didn’t get our questions answered the way we wanted to.”

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or