February 4, 2011
Turn on-the-job experience into a degree at Seattle’s City University
The Associated Press
Laid off at the start of the recession as the marketing director for a regional homebuilder, Leah Schedin quickly realized she lacked something essential for a new job: a college degree.
Schedin had completed courses here and there at a community college, but never enough for a bachelor’s degree. Without one, she found, her 18 years of experience didn’t matter.
“These days, you’re applying [for jobs] online, and you’re filtered out as soon as you get to the question about whether you have a degree,” says Schedin.
So Schedin put her talents to work finding a university where she could get academic credit for her work experience. She found one: City University of Seattle, a private, nonprofit institution that’s at the vanguard of a movement catering to the growing numbers of adult learners and military veterans who are changing careers. At the end of this semester, Schedin will head back into the churning job market with a four-year degree in marketing after just 18 months.
Universities and colleges are being pressed to increase graduation rates and speed up the time it takes for students to complete degrees by awarding college credit for their life and work experience. A national campaign run by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) is promoting the sometimes-derided practice with a program to help adults prepare online portfolios of their job experience that independent faculty will evaluate for academic credit.
One hundred institutions in 30 states are on board. Top higher-education associations back the coalition, and major foundations are bankrolling it.
The push coincides with President Barack Obama’s goal of boosting the number of college graduates by 5 million before the end of the decade. It comes as states and higher-education institutions are moving away from strict demands for seat time and credit hours.
Only a handful of people take advantage of the opportunity to cash in on work experience. Just two dozen out of CityU’s 2,500 American students have sought such credits, a percentage that’s similar to what other schools report.
“It’s just not happening at the pace or scale it should be, given all these people out there with learning that has occurred in other venues,” says Pamela Tate, president and CEO of CAEL.
One reason is that many faculty members look down their noses at the practice and discourage their institutions and students from participating. “They still believe that ‘if you weren’t in my class, you couldn’t possibly know’ ” the subject matter, Tate says.
Some universities offer institutional or standardized tests, while others that accept work-experience credits require students to take, and pay for, courses in which they put together autobiographical portfolios for faculty review.
“From the outside, it looks easy, but it takes a lot of work,” says Anthony Boben, 49. He earned credit from his work experience toward a bachelor’s degree in economics at Lehman College in the Bronx, N.Y., after he was laid off from a six-figure accounting job.
Schedin found the process “ridiculously hard.” She prepared a 250-page portfolio to apply for credits, and received the maximum 45 toward the 180 credits she needed for a degree.
Her classmate Mark Ball, who also lost his job when the economy crashed, was awarded 25 credits for 22 years as a restaurant manager and music producer. He’ll finish his bachelor’s degree this semester after only 18 months.
“It’s like the game of Life,” says Ball, 41. “Except I started life first and went to school second.”
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