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Report: Giving Credit for Prior Learning Boosts Persistence

While three-quarters of Americans say they would be more likely to enroll in a higher education program that gave them credit for what they already know, only 27 percent of institutions grant academic credit to students for the learning they've obtained outside of the classroom. This may be a missed opportunity for those colleges and universities. Adult students, who make up 40 percent of the student body for American schools, are two and a half times more likely to persist in their education and achieve their degrees than those who received no credit for prior learning.

Those are some of the statistics that bolster the case for granting credit for prior learning, according to a new report published by Pearson Education and the American Council on Education (ACE). "Making the Case for Credit for Prior Learning" (CPL) lays out the benefits to students, institutions and employers for issuing credit for prior learning.

According to the report's authors, credit for prior learning is the name of the practice used by schools "at or close to the time of a student's admission" to award institutional credit for demonstrating mastery earned outside of school. Determining the value of prior learning can be handled in several ways, the report noted: through standardized or faculty-developed exams, evaluations by organizations such as the ACE or faculty assessment of a student's portfolio of evidence of previous learning.

Going through the paces of that assessment in order to grant credit for prior learning offers multiple benefits, the report stated: CPL "increases student retention, encourages persistence, shortens time to completion and translates valuable learning experiences into tangible progress towards education and career goals."

Pulling from multiple sources of data, the report said that more than half of the students who were assessed and given credit for prior learning were able to earn a degree within seven years. That count drops to 21 percent for students who received no credit for prior learning.

The report pointed out that implementing a system for granting credit for prior learning encourages students to exploit free educational resources, such as massive, open, online courses, badging and other learning options. At the same time, such a system would make the degrees "21st-century relevant and grounded in real experience," enabling more adult learners to complete their education.

One of those adult learners quoted in the report is Bette Feldeisen, a 46-year-old plumber in New Jersey, who had been laid off in 2008. She received 25 credits towards a degree from her apprenticeship training. "The money I saved on those credits totaled well over $2,500, not to mention the money saved in travel, books and related expenses," she said. "[The combined transfer and credits from my five year plumbing and pipe fitting apprenticeship made returning to college] much less intimidating."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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