SUNBURY — Six Valley high school students, who are also enrolled at vo-tech, are taking advantage of a unique academic opportunity. They are working with Lackawanna College, Sunbury Center, to earn college credits before they graduate from high school.

The Pennsylvania Students Occupationally and Academically Ready (SOAR) program allows high school students to participate in challenging coursework that will begin to prepare them for higher education in occupations that are in high demand. These are career paths that generally require higher skills and are likely to provide family-sustaining wages.

SOAR works to align high school courses with the requirements of a college program, so students can begin the work to complete a degree, diploma, or certificate. Lackawanna College, Sunbury Center, works with multiple high schools and vocational institutions in the area to offer this program.

“We have had a few students who have used the SOAR program to advance their studies and reduce the amount of loans they will have when they graduate,” said Phillip Campbell, Sunbury Center. “Since we are an accredited school with accredited classes, students from the local vo-tech schools can take advantage of this program. Students in Business and Criminal Justice coursework at the vo-tech schools are also eligible for free credits to use towards an associate degree.

The SOAR Program makes this opportunity possible by working to align high school courses that will eventually be awarded college credits by Lackawanna College. The partnership enables students to complete a degree, diploma, or certificate. Lackawanna College, Sunbury Center, works with schools in the area to create specific degree articulations that will permit students to earn college credit for pre-approved work they have completed in high school. Campbell confirmed that the SOAR program allows students to earn college credit for coursework they are already doing. No extra coursework happens, he said.

Josiah Courtney, 19, of Beavertown, is one of those students. He graduated from Midd-West School District and SUN Area Technical Institute in 2020, having studied in the criminal justice program.

”Going to Tech made me eligible to be in the SOAR program and going to Lackawanna made it possible for me to get 15 college credits, which is five college courses,” said Courtney.

Lackawanna is a great college, he added, “I like the classes and the teachers make learning enjoyable.”

Lackawanna College, Sunbury Center, is located in the Sunbury Plaza at 1145 N. Fourth St. The first semester of instruction began in August 2017.

After successfully completing relevant coursework, students are eligible to receive free college credits from Lackawanna College. Those credits are offered to students with completed articulations in, Accounting Technology/Technician Bookkeeping, Administrative Assistant/Secretarial Science, Criminal Justice/Police Science, Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting, and Related Protective Services.

The six students enrolled through the program were each able to receive 15 free credits to continue their education with Lackawanna College, saving each of them more than $8,000 in tuition. The SOAR program allows students to explore what they want to do in college while they are still in high school, so they are able to advance quickly to earn a sustainable career faster than traditional Lackawanna College students.

James Catino, the Northumberland County Career and Technology Center Director, works with students every day and sees the benefits of the SOAR program. He also noted the possible tuition savings involved in this particular program.

“SOAR opportunities were the deciding factor for students attending post-secondary education instead of immediately joining the workforce,” said Catino.

SUN Area Technical Institute Director Jennifer Hain said the program creates a pathway into post-secondary education that allows students to transition easily at a cost savings to the family.

“The cost savings is huge for a family when students are receiving 9-12 credits,” said Hain. “The program allows students to get a jump start on their career and learn to be lifelong learners allowing students to pivot and grow within a company.”

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