Converting real life experience into college credit can accelerate path to degree
In the past, college was designed to equip students with the skills and experience needed to succeed in professional life. Nowadays, having real life experience, but no college degree, can derail even the most veteran employee.
Robert Greenlaw, a student at Mid-America Christian University (MACU), had a wealth of experience and was ready to cement his expertise with a college degree.
“I graduated from high school at 16 and went straight into the workforce, learning most of what I needed on the job and through various training opportunities,” he said.
But at one point, he decided to formalize his education. With the help of his company's tuition reimbursement plan, Greenlaw began pursuing a Business Administration and Ethics degree from MACU to sharpen his business knowledge and leadership skills.
He was thrilled when he learned he could put his years in the workforce to use and get college credit for some of his experience. MACU’s Prior Learning Program allows students to receive credit for prior learning opportunities through volunteerism, the military, the workforce, in ministry or even from world travels.
“The way MACU evaluates and accepts college-level learning outside of the classroom is very impressive,” Greenlaw said. “I expect to earn the maximum of 30 credits through prior learning by documenting and submitting what I have learned during my 24-year career.”
That will save money and time. In addition to cutting tuition costs, Greenlaw said he will complete his degree months ahead of schedule with his life experience credits factored in.
“Time is definitely a challenge for working adults who want to continue or complete their formal education,” he said. “However, the online option MACU provides makes this very manageable for me, even with a full-time job and young family.”
With a goal in sight, Greenlaw is committed to earning his business degree.
“I've been blessed with a lot of great professional training and life experience up to this point, but there are still gaps in my knowledge bank when it comes to business,” he said. “I am excited about filling these gaps so I can make a greater difference at work, at home, and in my community.”
Like Greenlaw, many of MACU’s adult students have a wealth of job experience, but need to earn their degree for a job promotion or to finish a goal they started, said Patty Clouse, Manager of Prior Learning, MACU.
“The concept behind the Prior Learning Program is that real knowledge comes from real experience,” Clouse said. “Rather than having adult learners repeat lower level classes, they can demonstrate that they already have this knowledge and move on to more challenging courses.”
She said many adults have acquired measurable, college-level learning, which can be assessed and applied toward a degree program. Students must demonstrate in writing that their experience equates to what one may have learned in traditional courses. They can also submit further evidence of their skills, such as certifications, licenses or information provided by an employer.
“The strongest component is that they can articulate what they have learned and use it,” Clouse said.
Students can earn up to 30 hours of college credit by applying what they already know. They can earn up to another 30 hours through traditional means such as The College Level Examination Program (CLEP).
The knowledge students attained before coming to MACU can help them shorten the amount of time it takes to complete their degree, saving thousands of dollars in college tuition.
“Thirty hours! That’s the equivalent to a full year of college – and a full year of college tuition,” Clouse said.
The Prior Learning Program at MACU has been around since the inception of its adult learning program in mid-1990's.
Currently, Clouse said about 15 percent of MACU students take advantage of this opportunity – and more people should. She stressed there is value in many life experiences, even if they don’t appear to be directly associated with a student’s degree program.
“Students often tell me, ‘I don’t have any experience in the field of my degree,’” she said.
For those students, Clouse recommends thinking outside the box.
For instance, students who are experts at a hobby have demonstrated drive, shown they can perform as independent learners and have advanced in a unique skill. She said that experience may qualify toward an elective credit.
“Taking advantage of this opportunity can help students achieve their goals much faster,” Clouse said.
That’s especially important for working adult students who may juggle jobs, family and college classes.