Monday, August 27, 2012

More on Credit for Prior Learning

I’ve written before about credit for prior learning.  Last week, Inside Higher Education had a piece about a significant partnership between 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State University System of Higher Education and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) that will facilitate the assessment of prior learning, through CAEL’s Learning Counts service.

You can read about the initiative at  Note that, like most reputable prior learning assessment programs with which I’m familiar, it is portfolio based, and with CAEL’s strong reputation, there is no reason to doubt that prior learning can be matched to specific university courses in a reliable manner.

Understanding how credit for prior learning fits into a comprehensive strategy to serve adult learners is important.  Remember, other than flagship public institutions and elite privates, most institutions will find it impossible to balance their budgets through traditional residential programs.  Branch campuses’ stock in trade is serving adult learners and other nontraditional students, and attracting this audience is increasingly important for many small private or regional public institutions, as well.

Adult learners are extraordinarily value conscious, with cost and time to degree important elements in their value equation.  A solid enrollment management strategy should include concern for transfer-friendly practices, flexible scheduling and online options.  Credit for prior learning is an appropriate tool in this context.

I was struck by one part of the article:  “One reason many colleges are skittish about granting credits for prior learning is because to do so is to acknowledge that the academy doesn’t have a lock on college-level learning. Some faculty members also view the process warily, arguing that it can be an academically suspect money grab and a weak substitute for college.”  People who take their stand on the notion that only colleges provide college-level learning are going to find the future a very tough place to live.  Uninformed arrogance is an all-too-common weakness of the “academy.”

I do think nationally recognized standards for awarding prior learning credit would be helpful.  I’m aware of institutions that essentially give away far too much credit, with far too little documentation.  Common standards would not only increase the credibility of prior learning assessment, but it would help institutions feel more comfortable transferring such credit, as assessed elsewhere.  I hope CAEL’s effort will contribute to reliable standards.

Institutions or campuses can refuse to award prior learning credit, but if they do so, they will seriously harm their competitive position.  I congratulate CAEL and the Pennsylvania system on their partnership.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Epic 2020 and a Radical View on Change in Higher Education

At the risk of appearing to be an alarmist, I want to project an even more challenging future than I suggested in my last post.  To that end, I strongly encourage you to watch a new online video, Epic 2020, at  It was developed by a friend of mine, Bill Sams, and regardless of how you react to the message, keep in mind that it is attracting a lot of attention.  You might also read a commentary by Sams, in eCampus News, at 

Epic 2020 projects radical change in higher education, building from the effects of the so-called “student loan bubble,” unsustainable business practices at colleges and universities, and the potential power of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  However, in my opinion, Bill’s most intriguing and provocative points relate to the emergence of alternative certifications and the argument that high quality content can/should be free to the learner.  He suggests a financial model that completes the picture many of us have wrestled over, in which revenue streams tie to a number of sources, but the cost to students for content falls to zero.

Views of the video have exceeded 20,000, as I write, and it has attracted the attention of a number of bloggers.  In my opinion, it can give you a quick perspective on how the most innovative individuals are imagining the future.

Bill would tell you that the point of the video and commentary is to provoke discussion.  Epic 2020 connects dots that already exist, and then paints a picture of a possible future.  One thing almost no institutions are doing, so far as I can tell, is systematically studying and thinking about these issues, and that is part of what makes them so vulnerable to alternative ideas.

To link all this back to branch campuses, specifically, I came across a blog post at  This particular post triggered several negative reactions in me, but I wanted to share it, because of the way it links MOOCs to the role/future of branch campuses.

Note that the post is principally about international branches of U.S. institutions.  (If you Google “branch campuses” you’ll find the term frequently used as if “branch” and “international” were synonyms.  I find that irritating.)  Nevertheless, I certainly agree that MOOCs and other online options pose a competitive challenge to branch campuses, which were themselves created to expand access and opportunity.

The place where I differ from some futurists, at least for now, relates to the future of brick and mortar institutions, including branches.  Most agree that flagships and elite, well-endowed privates will be fine.  Likewise, most predict that we will see a nearly stunning number of closures and mergers.  Still, there are powerful cultural effects operating around higher education, and the role of governments and accreditors seems unclear to me.

Regardless, it is time to take emerging ideas seriously.  As I’ve said before, that proverbial train is leaving the station.  It will soon be too late to get on board.