PLCs: the alternative route to college
There is a route to college for everyone, regardless of how many CAO points they got. Students can replace their Leaving Cert results with an award from a course in the further education/post-Leaving Certificate (FE/PLC) sector.
Courses are at Level 5 and Level 6, traditionally certified by the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC). For Level 7 (ordinary degree) courses, students generally compete with Leaving Cert candidates for places, while for Level 8 courses, colleges reserve a set number of places for applicants.
The success of the alternative entry route can be seen in the over 15,000 CAO 2014 applicants listing such awards on their application.
At Cavan Institute, we estimate that, in some courses, 75-100pc of students use this route to access level 7 and 8 courses.
One of our students, Aisling Donohoe, recently completed the BSc in Science Education in NUI Maynooth, access to which she achieved through a FETAC award in science.
Richard Malone from Dublin used his Level 6 in multimedia to gain advance entry to second year of a Level 8 degree in Communications and Creative Media at Dundalk IT.
After she lost her job in banking, Kathrina Murray started a Level 5 business course with the aim of progressing to a business management degree.
Lorraine Hand used her Level 6 in Security Operations to apply for the BA in Criminal Justice Studies and has just finished her MA in Human Resources at Waterford Institute of Technology.
The popularity of some Level 8 courses means that students are not guaranteed a place as a result of achieving maximum marks in their PLC course. This is particularly evident for nursing. In response, many of the FE/PLC colleges have developed links with UK colleges who accept FETAC results for entry.
One successful applicant, Laura McDonald from Butlersbridge, Cavan, got offers from both DCU and University of Southampton, based on her PLC results.
A student interested in using a PLC to progress to a Level 7 or 8 degree should work backwards from the level 7/8 course in question and identify the PLC course they need to complete and where that course is on offer. PLC colleges are located in all counties with the majority run under the auspices of the Education and Training Boards (the former VECs).
The CAO website has an excellent list of the FETAC links, but it is essential to cross-reference the FETAC codes with the PLC provider. It is also advisable to let the career guidance officer in the PLC college know of any progression plans.
While nothing is guaranteed, students can ensure that they are on track by monitoring their results, as grades are based on continuous assessment. It allows them to know early on whether goals are achievable.
*Catherine Fox is Assistant Principal, Cavan Institute, Cavan.