Greensboro Police Chief Robert White started Student Outreach and Recruiting in 1999 to boost a slumping number of law enforcement applications.
Fred Rafilson, president of the International Fire and Police Recruitment, said the number of new people entering the law enforcement field has reached an all-time low.
"It's a very national problem," he said.
"The numbers started to decline seven years ago. In the last five years, it has gotten bad, and in the last two years it has reached critical proportions."
Rafilson attributes the decrease to the booming economy and increased money-making opportunities in the private sector of the economy.
"People can make the same amount of money not working odd shifts, working holidays and risking their lives," he said.
White, aware of the shrinking numbers, proposed the program to bring the number of new law enforcement officers to a healthier number.
White said the free college education incentive is a good way to attract prospective law enforcement officers.
"We consistently recruit at the college level, and my thought was to start at the high school level," he said.
Brian Norwood, a senior at Western Guilford High School in Greensboro, has been in SOAR since August of his junior year.
Norwood said one attractive aspect of the program was being able to get a preview of what the law enforcement field would be like.
"I haven't always wanted to be a police officer," he said. "I wanted to be in the Air Force but the opportunities weren't there."
But Norwood said the opportunities available via SOAR were too great to pass up.
"It was the icing on the cake."
SOAR is open to 15 new students a year in the Guilford County School System.
A student in SOAR is required to take criminology courses at Guilford Technical Community College while in high school. After graduation the student can attend N.C. Agricultural & Technical University, UNC-Greensboro or GTCC for free in return for three to five years of service in the Greensboro police department.
Officer Alex Ricketts, who runs SOAR, said in spite of its youth, the program's progress has been promising.
"Eventually it may grow into something bigger," he said.
Ricketts also said he hopes the program will grow into a magnet school for law enforcement.
"It will be years and years down the road, but hopefully we can do it."
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