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.

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