Credit for Life and Work: Northeast Offers Prior Learning Assessment Opportunity

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Northeast State Community College now offers students the opportunity to earn college credit for prior life/work experiences.

The College signed an agreement in fall 2012 with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) to evaluate work experience, professional training, military training, or other types of knowledge and determine if it qualifies for college-level credit.

Through this process – known as prior learning assessment (PLA) – students may be able earn as many as 12 hours of credit toward a degree or certificate at Northeast State.

“Previously, we had no avenue for students to earn credit for experiential learning,” said Billy Benton, Northeast State’s registrar for Admissions and Records.  “For those that qualify, especially older students, it’s a great opportunity to help them complete their degrees quicker, and save time and money.”

Benton said Tennessee Higher Education Commission met with community colleges and universities more than a year ago to put a system in place that would provide a consistent PLA evaluation process. Ultimately, CAEL, a non-profit education and training company, was recommended to provide assistance with PLA.

The process involves a free advising session with CAEL to determine if a student has sufficient experience to pursue credit in a particular subject area. Students who clear that step enroll in a self-paced, non-credit, online portfolio development course.

The $129 course teaches student how to prepare a portfolio that reflects knowledge in a particular subject area. Benton said students generally complete a portfolio within six to eight weeks.

Portfolios are submitted to expert faculty members from across the U.S. who examine the nature and extent of each student’s experiential learning. The portfolio review fee is $250.

After review – typically two to three weeks – the evaluator recommends the amount of college credit to be awarded. Ultimately, any credit awarded is placed on an American Council of Education (ACE) transcript, which is universally accepted by higher education institutions.

“Pricewise, it’s a great value,” Benton said. “A student may be able to get 12 hours of credit for only $379, which is much less than tuition and fees for a full semester.”

Benton said the initiative dovetails with the state’s Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010, which ties funding to retention and graduation rates. A recent CAEL survey showed students with prior learning assessment credits experienced graduation rates two and a half times higher than students without it. These students also had higher persistence rates and completed their degree faster. Also, the data showed that students at two-year institutions average 10.3 credits through PLA.

Benton said another benefit of the CAEL system is that it provides colleges and universities with an objective way to evaluate experiential learning, taking the pressure off schools to assess portfolios and portfolio credit.

“It takes the institution out of the evaluating process. All we’re doing is providing the student a roadmap to CAEL,” Benton said. “If the student receives credit, we get the ACE transcript, and then follow our normal processes. It’s very nice because it takes subjectivity out of the mix.”

For more information, visit www.learningcount.org or contact Billy Benton at bcbenton@NortheastState.edu or 423.354.2405.

Bob Carpenter

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