Depending on who you ask, the student pilot dropout rate in the United States is anywhere from 50% to 70%, one of the highest among all nations. If we take into account the looming pilot shortage and implementation of the new 1500 hour rule, losing half of the incoming class before they graduate seems like a bit of a concern. It also seems like a great place to start when thinking about a strategy to address the shortage of qualified pilots (spoiler alert: follow up blog post on the way).
There are a handful of reasons student pilots give program leaders when dropping out of a flight training program. Reasons generally touch upon the cost being too high, the program being more demanding than expected or the instructors not being very good. The unfortunate reality from a recruitment standpoint is that students in flight training programs have already accepted the realism that they are not going to make a lot of money coming out of school, will have to overcome a mound of flying hours before getting the job they want and will probably have to get a second job to begin paying off their debt. It is challenging enough for recruiters to get students into aviation programs today; once they are in we cannot afford to loose more than 50% for reasons within our control.
How are programs addressing the problem? The answer is not by looking just at the reasons why students say they are dropping out of the program. Instead schools should be looking at the predictors of their dropout rate and develop strategies for addressing them. For example does the amount of money a student gets in scholarships affect their likelihood of graduation? Or does a student’s high school GPA relate to their chances of finishing a flight training program and if so can you ensure you're recruiting the right type of student from the beginning? Or is there a relationship between the students that dropout and the CFI’s they have had train them?
Once you know the predictors then you can start to address the reasons students are dropping out and begin to better shape your program to retain student pilots as well as recruit the right flight training program candidates from the beginning.