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College life credits

By James Nold Jr. from February 2014 Issue

College life credits

It's the reality behind the "school of hard knocks" cliché: living and working teaches you as much as or more than college. Sometimes, we don't know what it has taught us until we sit down and reflect on it.

One of the many ways that Kentucky colleges are accommodating working adults is by turning their existing knowledge into college credit. Reflecting on what experience has taught us is in itself a valuable form of learning; through it, we see old learning with a new level of understanding and appreciation—and there are ways to turn old learning into new.

This has existed for 45 years in the form of the CLEP tests administered by the College Board, a program not dissimilar to the Advanced Placement tests high school students take.

But institutions are coming up with their own, more finely tuned ways to measure what their students already know. Western Kentucky University has recently developed an interesting program (at present going through the university's approval process) for what's called in education circles "prior learning assessment."

In WKU's program, students will sign up for a three-credit-hour class on how to put together a portfolio that reflects what they've learned professionally; as WKU adult learner counselor John Hart puts it, "what college-level learning you experienced and received" in your job. He gives an example of someone who spent 10 years in the Army working with computers.

The portfolio will go into detail and be presented to a faculty assessor in the appropriate discipline. The assessor will compare the learning demonstrated by the portfolio with the learning objectives of various classes, and award credit accordingly.

According to Hart, the portfolio class will encourage students to "think outside the box" to come up with effective, high-quality ways to present what they've learned. He says it could be "a performance, an artifact, a Web site"—whatever suits the material, as long as it is a way of reflecting on what has been learned.

Hart says that students might be eligible for up to a quarter of the hours of credit required for a WKU degree through portfolios, a number roughly equal to a year of college.


Read the Kentucky Living February 2014 feature that goes along with this supplement, Graduating in Overtime.