At a Glance
Lackawanna College has implemented new processes over the last five years to expand their SOAR offerings, market the programs to the regional career and technology centers, recruit students, and assist them in completing their programs of study.
This best practice profile highlights how Lackawanna College (LC), located in Northeastern Pennsylvania, developed a clear focus and plan to increase the number of students taking advantage of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s SOAR program. The college had only one student obtain SOAR credits in all the years leading up to 2017. The leadership team at the college felt there was a need to help more students obtain these credits to make college more affordable and/or less time-consuming. Along with developing marketing and recruiting practices, they also wanted to improve their internal approval process for articulation agreements.
Therefore, in the spring of 2017, Lackawanna College took a new approach with regard to the SOAR program. As there had only been one student taking advantage of the SOAR credits in the prior years the college participated, the decision was made to put more effort into four specific areas:
- Expanding SOAR offerings
- Marketing the program
- Recruiting students
- Retaining students
Expanding SOAR offerings
As Lackawanna College has multiple locations, the first step was to identify secondary institutions with CTE programs near each location and what SOAR Programs of Study (POS) they offered to students. Next, each POS offered was reviewed to determine whether any of its curricula aligned with that of the college. They especially looked at CIP-related programs and those that we might not normally consider but share some technology (Vehicle Technology Petroleum & Natural Gas – Engine and Electronic technology). Any of the LC courses whose objectives were met were then recommended for an articulation agreement which then proceeded through the newly established LC approval process. By reviewing these non-traditional pathways, we were able to provide many more options for potential SOAR students.
The POS Coordinator meets with the Program Director or Division Chair to review the recommended articulation agreement. There are three potential outcomes to this:
- Approve as written
- Disapprove, noting why
- Approve with modification
For (2), the agreement info is filed to be revisited if the secondary curriculum changes during revision or LC’s curriculum changes. For (1) and (3), the proposed agreement is submitted to the Curriculum Committee to make sure that all college and PDE guidelines have been followed. Following their approval, the digital Signatory Addendum is written up and the Provost and President are asked to digitally sign. The agreement is then submitted to the state for approval.
For Local and Alignment agreements, the process is similar, but approval after the Curriculum Committee is limited to the POS Coordinator and Direct of Admissions at LC, then the Director and Curriculum Coordinator/Perkins Coordinator at the CTC, then submitted into CATS.
Marketing the SOAR program
LC began this process by reaching out to the CTCs and asking the administration and faculty to meet to discuss the SOAR program and where their programs led to degrees and free credits at LC. We quickly learned that the administration was fully aware of the SOAR program, but some faculty did not understand the complete impact it could have on students. The free credits offered and the process to obtain the credits were discussed.
Many CTCs and Comprehensive High Schools were quite welcoming in allowing LC staff to meet with their students in a classroom setting based on the programs they were in. They discussed how students can obtain the credits for what they have already learned in high school with no duplication of learning. They also explained how it would impact them while in college:
- Less time in college which means a lower cost (provide actual numbers for them to realistically understand the impact)
- Lighten their load during one or more semesters while they are in college to allow the potential for more success as they adjust to a college environment
Students are provided a folder containing the following items and a description of what each of them are:
- List of courses they could receive through SOAR from their specific program
- Checklist of the paperwork they are required to submit along with instructions of who they obtain the items from and where they need to submit them
- Description of the potential program(s) their program leads to
- Curriculum Guide showing what courses they would take and which ones they would get for free
- POS Coordinator Business Card so they can call or email with any questions
Contact information is collected from the students to allow for further communication following the classroom visitation. Additional visits are scheduled to speak with specific students, if requested. Follow-up emails are sent to the students to remind them of their opportunity to receive SOAR credits.
The POS Coordinator then works closely with the Department of Admissions to note when a student has the potential of earning SOAR credits and helping them through the process. They recently started adding a code to the student’s record when they have attended a CTE program. The POS Coordinator can then contact the student to learn the specifics and help them through the SOAR process if they have completed a program that has an articulation agreement.
Although LC was not officially permitted to award SOAR credits because students did not take the NOCTI exam during the COVID-19 pandemic, they decided to pursue the opportunity to offer credits anyway. The NOCTI exam is one of several criteria that ensures the postsecondary institution the student has learned all the material shown on the task grid. The leadership team felt that if they could determine, to a certain level of confidence, that students had learned the material, they would still offer them credit. LC decided to require a letter of recommendation from the technical program instructor with the directions that they be fully honest in their evaluation of their student. As a result of this, their numbers continued to increase, even during COVID.
With an increased number of students being awarded SOAR credits, they then shifted to retaining those students. Students have an advisor from their specific program, but the POS Coordinator is a secondary advisor that the students can reach out to at any time. The POS Coordinator also keeps track of the student’s performance and contacts the student if there is indication of any problems. A record is kept showing their GPA each semester and whether or not they have registered for the following semester. If they have not registered during the normal timeframe, the student is contacted to discuss why. Not all students can be retained due to personal issues, but this does help to improve those numbers.
Overview of our SOAR numbers
As stated earlier, prior to the implementation of these processes, LC only had one student obtain SOAR credits at LC. Once these processes began, we saw our numbers begin to increase. Statistics are shown below.
2017-2018 One Student
2018-2019 Four Students
2019-2020 Seven Students
2020-2021 Fifteen Students (Not counted due to COVID and no NOCTI)
2021-2022 Ten Students
They believe the slight drop in numbers this year was since they were unable to see students in the classroom but continued to reach out to instructors and administration to provide information for their students, allowing them to still have a respectable number of SOAR students.
The best value has been for the students. There has been an increasing number of students obtaining SOAR credits which is a tremendous opportunity to save money or have a lighter course load while in college. Other post-secondary institutions should consider obtaining financial backing from their institution or utilizing some of their Perkins funds to hire someone to work on improving the 4 areas mentioned below.