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How a 1970s policy can boost completion rates today

By Todd Hitchcock and Mary Beth Lakin
July 13th, 2015

How extending Credit for Prior Learning can accelerate college completion and improve employability.

credit-prior-learningThe face of the “average” college student is changing. Seventy-five percent of today’s students (mostly adult learners) are juggling some combination of family commitment, job, and education, while commuting to campus, according to Complete College America.1 Growing demands placed on working adult learners can make higher education seem unattainable, inflexible, and unrealistic. For too many people today, time is the barrier to college completion.

Making the case for CPL to help employment and the economy

The 2009 unemployment rate of high school graduates 25 and older was 9.7 percent, compared with 4.6 percent for college graduates.2 Moreover, by 2020, our economy will have jobs for nearly 165 million people —65 percent of which will require postsecondary training.

However, at our current production rate of graduates, the U.S. will fall short by five million workers with the necessary education and training to meet the skill profiles of the jobs likely to be created.3

Credit for Prior Learning has emerged as an effective pathway to help more learners today, with busy lifestyles, to achieve their higher education goals.

Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) is a term educators use to describe learning that a student acquires outside of a traditional academic environment. This learning may have been attained through work experience, professional development courses, military training or experience, independent study, noncredit courses, volunteer or community service, travel, non-college courses, or seminars, many of which are offered online, such as MOOCs.

CPL is also similar to Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)—the process by which an individual’s experiential and other extra-institutional learning is assessed and evaluated for the purposes of granting college credit, certification, or advanced standing toward further education or training. CPL is a practice used by institutions at or close to the time of a student’s admission, to award institutional credit for demonstrated competency mastery earned in other settings.

(Next page: Specifics on how the CPL model works for students and institutions)


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