College credits without college classes

Prior learning assessment — college credit for skills and knowledge acquired outside the classroom — is “poised to break into the mainstream in a big way,” predicts Inside Higher Ed.  “The national college completion push and the expanding adult student market are driving the growth.”

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and the American Council on Education (ACE) are promoting ways to compare prior learning with college coursework. But some people are “nervous,” writes Inside Higher Ed.

When done right, the process is a far cry from taking money to offer credit for “life experience.” But that notion persists. And perhaps more fairly, some in higher education worry that the “completion agenda” is putting pressure on colleges to lower the bar for a degree or credential, including through prior learning.

In ACE’s model, faculty teams generate credit recommendations. CAEL has created LearningCounts to assess student portfolios. Other colleges do their own assessment or use exams such as the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), Excelsior College Exams and the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests.

The for-profit American Public University System (APUS) will provide online classes — and credit for prior learning — to WalMart employees, reports a follow-up story.

In surveys, 72 percent of employees preferred a fully accredited online university to their local community college, WalMart found. At $638 for a three-credit course, APUS is more expensive than most community colleges, but cheaper than many online providers.

Taking it one step farther, Cato’s Andrew Coulson suggests an online portfolio could serve as a self-designed credential.

. . . decide what it is you would like to learn over those four years and then… learn it. Thanks to the Web, the material covered in virtually every undergraduate program is readily available at little cost — and the same is true for many advanced programs. And, having learned it, spend a few hundred dollars to create a website or even simply a YouTube channel on which you demonstrate your new skills/understanding.  . . . when you’re ready to apply for work, submit your resume with a link to this portfolio of relevant work.

Employers, ask yourself this question: Would you rather hire someone with a portfolio such as the one described above, visibly demonstrating competency and personal initiative, or someone with a degree that is generally supposed to signalthat competency, but that you can’t readily assess for yourself?

Coulson dubs these portfolios the student’s savoir-faire, which translates as “know how to do.”


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