Adult students seek credit for experience

Some colleges are giving students credit for work and life experience, writes Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report and McClatchy Newspapers. But, so far, few students are turning on-the-job experience into college credits and speedier degrees.

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning is trying to change that by launching a campaign to enable adults to prepare online portfolios of their job experience that independent faculty will evaluate for academic credit.

One hundred institutions in 30 states are on board. Top higher-education associations back the coalition, and major foundations are bankrolling it. It hopes to reach tens of thousands of people within five years.

Professors often oppose giving credit for experience, said Pamela Tate, who heads the council. “They still believe that ‘If you weren’t in my class, you couldn’t possibly know it,’ ” she said.

Credit for work experience can have its downsides. The credits are difficult to transfer if you change universities, and substituting them for introductory requirements can cause problems for students later in their careers, when they can’t keep up with classmates in writing or other basic academic skills.

Forty percent of college students are 25 and older.

“All of our institutional frameworks have been created around 18-year-olds coming out of high schools without any experience. They’re the empty vessels into which we pour knowledge. But when you’re a working adult, you’re hardly an empty vessel,” said Lee Gorsuch, the president of CityU.

“You learn by doing,” Gorsuch added. “We’re not anti-intellectual, but can you balance a spreadsheet or can’t you?”

Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, a consortium 0f 1,900 colleges and universities, helps veterans get credit for military training and experience. Some  45,892 vets earned 805,473 credits last year.

Navy veteran John McGowan was awarded enough credits for his electronics training and other military experience that he got a bachelor’s degree in half the usual time from Irvine, Calif.-based Brandman University, even while working full time. “I went from zero college to a bachelor’s degree in two years,” McGowan said.

In some cases, experienced students can earn credit by passing a test. But often students have to put together autobiographical portfolios for faculty review, paying as much as if they’d enrolled in the course.