News Release

Prior Learning Assessment: Alternate Pathway to College Credit

June 13, 2012

Dr. John Schwenn
Dr. John O. Schwenn is the President of Dalton State College.

The challenge before us is immense: generate almost a quarter million more college graduates for the state of Georgia in the next eight years. The methods we use to achieve this ambitious goal will require us to do things in different ways and to consider all kinds of new possibilities.

One way in which we are doing things differently is granting college credit for learning that did not happen at college. This has been a gray area not always taken seriously by academic purists, but as the process has evolved, some prior learning has come to be acknowledged as worthy of academic credit.

Most often, credit is going to be awarded for learning that has occurred in the military or in the workplace – not for vague “life experience” that has been criticized at other institutions in the past. But when mastery of a certain skill or knowledge is satisfactorily demonstrated, it stands to reason that credit should be awarded.

If you have, for example, worked as a bookkeeper for many years and now decide to go back to school to earn a business degree in accounting, it’s entirely possible that you do not need to take a Beginning Accounting class.

In this case, you would either prepare a portfolio to demonstrate proficiency in accounting, successfully pass a standardized CLEP (College Level Examination Program) test in accounting, or take a Department Challenge Exam prepared by accounting professors of our School of Business. Either way, you would be required to demonstrate mastery of the subject and achievement of the learning objectives for the particular course for which credit is sought.

Accounting is but one example. We currently have faculty trained to evaluate portfolios for course credit in education, electronics, computer science, criminal justice, nursing, and business. Dalton State is one of 13 schools in the University System of Georgia’s Adult Learning Consortium and we proud to be designated by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) as an Adult Learning-Focused Institution.

Awarding college credit for prior learning is just one way in which we are creating new opportunities for adult learners who wish to come back to college to earn a degree.

Another is by expanding methods for delivering instruction. Under the most traditional model, students come to a classroom on specified days and times to hear a professor lecture for an hour or an hour and a half.

We know now that nearly 75 percent of students attending college are non-traditional students who may be older, have jobs and/or family obligations that prevent them from attending classes under the traditional model. In order to make college education accessible to them, we must be flexible enough to meet evenings as well as days, or in alternative learning environments to the traditional classroom, such as online or hybrid (part live lecture, part online) milieus.

It is incumbent upon us to identify and remove the obstacles that keep adults from earning the degree that they need to succeed in work and in life. We continue to explore other ways we might better meet the needs of our students, both inside and outside the classroom.

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