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Report Highlights Impact of Prior Learning Assessments

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As part of the Association of Community College Trustees’ (ACCT) focus on developing community college workforce strategies, a new policy brief analyzes the impact of prior learning assessments.

The report, “Make It Count: Recognizing Prior Learning for Workforce Development,” focused on older students, working students and veterans, who can all benefit from earning credit through prior learning assessments (PLA). This is an extension of ACCT’s two other reports including “Partnerships for a Future-Ready Workforce” and the “College-Work Balancing Act.”

“We are really trying to help governing boards and community college leaders understand different workforce development strategies and how to improve the experiences for students,” said Allison Beer, senior policy analyst at ACCT. “And hopefully have that translate into public policy that benefits our community colleges.”

According to the brief, 45% of community college students are over the age of 25, 68% of community college students work while enrolled and 5% of community college students are veterans. Additionally, 46% of Americans believe they need additional education to advance in their careers.

Through PLAs, students can earn credits for their experiences inside and outside of the classroom including employer-based training, military experience, skills-focused courses and boot camps.

“It seems like an appropriate strategy to help recognize their experiences, help them get their degrees faster and then support their career goals,” said Beer.

Allison Beer

The brief highlighted data from the Council for Adult and Experimental Learning (CAEL) which found on average that adult students who received any amount of PLA credit were two and a half times more likely to complete their degrees than students who did not receive PLA credit.

Additionally, according to the brief, 91% of participating college and university administrators believe that students enter their institutions with workplace learning worth college credit and 72% said the demand for PLA will increase in the future.

In terms of existing federal and state policies, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program encourages workforce development and allows students to earn faster credentials. Another initiative is the Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships demonstration program which encourages colleges to increase student career readiness by working with third-party organizations.

“A lot of community college students aren’t necessarily entering the workforce for the first time and a lot of them are bringing past workforce experience with them when they are at community college,” said Beer.

One challenge that community colleges face with entering the workforce is bridging their past work experiences with relevant work for their course of study.

According to the report, nearly 70% of community college students are working but the majority are doing so for financial reasons rather than for their course of study.

“It is a real challenge for students and also for colleges to help students better make those connections and make sure those work experiences can be meaningful in relation to their academic experience,” said Beer.

Two example institutions, Dallas County Community College District’s (DCCCD) and Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College (EWVCTC), were used as a case study.

For the first example, EWVCTC focuses its prior learning efforts on adult completers. West Virginia created the Associate of Applied Science Board of Governors Degree program to change the state’s current PLA policy. Subject areas within the degree program include accounting, information technology, business management and early childhood education.

“They are in a state that has adopted a state-wide policy and that has helped for a lot of innovations on their own campus,” said Beer. “Thinking more strategically about using PLA for workforce development but also making it more affordable for students, offering different pathways to career and also to potentially a bachelor’s degree in the future.

For DCCCD, the institution partnered with StraighterLine in order to launch two pathway programs including business and criminal justice. In addition to transferable credit opportunities, students in this program have the opportunity to eventually transfer credits to a four-year institution to complete a bachelor’s degree.

In the future, ACCT will release two other reports surrounding workforce development strategies. The first will focus on how colleges can engage businesses to offer ‘upskilling’ opportunities. That is, it will explore ways in which existing employees can learn new skills in order to advance their careers and fill business needs.

The other report will look at automation, which students are impacted the most and the implications of it.

Sarah Wood can be reached at swood@diverseeducation.com.

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