Last week's signing of the National Defense Authorization Act did more than just avoid a government shutdown. It also changes how the FAA can hire air traffic controllers.
Five years ago, the FAA was told it had to hit background quotas. Half of the air traffic controllers hired had to have attended certified training institutions, such as the University of North Dakota. The other half had to be what they called "off the streets." Now, that quota is gone.
In aviation careers, it's no secret, demand for labor isn't being met. Now, Congress is allowing the FAA to hire more air traffic controllers with degrees specifically for the job.
"Now they've come back to realize that it is important; it does matter. Especially when it goes to the success once a graduate is hired by the Federal Aviation Administration and trained as an air traffic controller," Associate Dean Elizabeth Bjerke said.
Hiring was broken into two pools. One for veterans and graduates. The other were "off-the-street" hires; or those with three years of progressive work experience.
UND is one of only a handful of certified institutions. In a statement, UND said their program was harmed by the old law saying, that it made their Air Traffic Management degree "less valuable in the FAA's eyes.”
"When the hiring preference was taken away, people didn't see the value on spending the time in getting the degree. And so they weren't pursuing that. And then unfortunately, our numbers as well as the numbers of collegiate programs around the country that were a part of this have fallen off pretty dramatically," said Bjerke.
Aviation workers say there is a clear difference between the two pools.
"They're not as quick because they're kinda playing catch-up with us folks from UND and that stuff. We're just ready to go, and it's a little easier to explain some of the more advanced concepts that go beyond our degrees," said UND graduate Shane Gerbert.
As part of the changes, the FAA will also have to report on the performance of new hires.
UND gives most of the credit to North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, who introduced the legislation earlier this year with New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.