New research released on alternative pathways for degrees

Papers on credit for prior learning and competency-based education practices to be released.

pathway-report-ACENew research released Friday (February 20th) sheds light on how two approaches to creating alternative pathways to college graduation for post-traditional students are working.

The American Council on Education’s (ACE) Center for Education Attainment and Innovation and Center for Policy Research and Strategy are co-hosting an event with Blackboard on this topic and released research findings with implications for the future of higher education and degree completion.

The first paper is “Credit for Prior Learning: Charting Institutional Practice for Sustainability,” which identifies and addresses some of the cultural barriers and successful strategies to institutions incorporating CPL. Interviews with leaders and practitioners from a diverse group of seven institutions located across the U.S. offer insights into common challenges, successful strategies and innovative CPL practices.

“Embracing CPL initiatives means first acknowledging that college-level learning can occur outside the traditional classroom setting,” said Soares. “For many institutions, this requires a shift in thinking from how credit has been awarded historically.”

CPL allows students to progress through school more quickly and to take advantage of what they have already learned, says the report. As a result, campuses have the opportunity to increase persistence to degree and improve college affordability. The report found, however, that there is a lack of clearly defined CPL options and services on campuses. The findings suggest a common understanding of CPL terms and definitions within and outside of higher education be developed to ensure administrators and students are aware of all the CPL options at their institutions.

The report also offers recommendations for improving CPL efforts on campuses, including on how to get faculty buy-in, build a sustainable infrastructure and collect data to demonstrate success.

(Next page: The second paper)

The second paper is “The Currency of Higher Education: Credits and Competencies,” which explores the challenges in adapting the traditional credit hour to an information-age economy that relies on greater flexibility and productivity. Credits and competencies both reflect important structures of value for diverse stakeholders: government agencies, educational leaders and administrators, faculty, assessors, students and employers.

“Credits are likely to remain deeply embedded in postsecondary systems for some time, but there is ample opportunity for innovation with competencies as a complementary currency,” said Deborah Everhart, director of solutions strategy at Blackboard.

CBE programs are challenged by systems integration, technology and process adaptations needed throughout the student lifecycle for scalability and efficacy. Students need to know how they can evaluate the quality of a CBE program, but little structure is currently available to help students in this regard, according to the report.

“Implementing CBE practices in the credit-hour environments is complex, but faces fewer barriers and can more rapidly provide benefits to large numbers of students when outcomes-based approaches are compatible with credit-hour systems and processes,” said Deborah Seymour, assistant vice president of ACE’s Center for Education Attainment and Innovation.

Employers are key stakeholders both in the definition of CBE credentials and in the credentials’ marketability, notes the report. Badges and other micro-credentials can be useful bearers of competencies achieved, and as employers begin to accept their value, they can become part of the framework for competency exchange value.

“We are pleased to share these insightful papers and believe they will contribute to the national dialogue on ways colleges and universities are creating alternative pathways to college completion,” said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad.

Material from a press release was used in this report.