Students may earn credit for experience

Published 7:04 pm Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Adults who need to return to school for college studies will soon have greater options to earn credit for what they already know.

As one of five University System of Georgia (USG) institutions chosen for a College Access Challenge Grant, Bainbridge College (BC) is part of the USG Adult Learning Consortium.

“Bainbridge College’s focus is on the processes and policies that will benefit student adult learners returning to college,” said Vice President of Academic Affairs Mariam Dittmann, who leads the BC group implementing the various aspects of the grant.

Each of the five campuses, which include Valdosta State University as the lead institution, Atlanta Metropolitan College, Fort Valley State University and Georgia Southwestern State University, has received $25,000 of Challenge Grant funds to work together to improve services for adult students returning to college. They are working to expand programs that focus on strategic regional workforce needs, test the awarding of credit for learning acquired through life experience, and pass on their best practices to the entire USG.

BC has long offered ways to exempt courses or gain course credit through challenge exams or demonstration of existing skills and knowledge.

Dittmann gave as examples the academic CLEP tests for areas such as languages or mathematics and the fact that the Continuing Education Division has assisted in the testing of welding skills in order to send letters to employers certifying a person’s abilities.

She said that nearly 1 million Georgians, which is 22 percent of the workforce, have earned some college credit, but not a degree. This initiative can change that.

“This is an exciting new project that focuses on bringing adults back to college,” Dittmann said. “Federal and state studies show that a person with a college degree can have a lifetime potential earning of $1 million more than a person without a degree.

“Many of these potential adult students have experience and knowledge that could lead them to have satisfied parts of the program of study,” she said. “There are more ways to satisfy learning objectives, which show a student has learned the skills and content for a program, than listening to the professor, reading a book or sitting in a classroom.

“Therefore, we are developing various tests,” she said, noting this is a long process that involves clarifying learning objectives and developing exams in courses that do not have a current challenge exam prepared.

She said that some existing options for exempting a course do not give credit toward the degree, diploma or certificate. Through the grant, Bainbridge College and its sister institutions are developing ways for students to earn that needed credit based on what they already know to reduce the amount of time it will take an adult student to complete a program and earn a degree, diploma or certificate.

If the potential student can demonstrate that he or she has met the course objectives, then credit will be granted.

“Obviously some jobs may offer more opportunities to learn course content than others,” Dittmann said. “For example, in this area, working 10 years in an accounting office may give enough knowledge to jump start studies for an accounting degree, whereas the opportunities here might be fewer for on-the-job training in other fields such as chemistry or physics,” she said.

BC is focusing equally on potential credit for courses offered in the Arts and Sciences and in the Technical Studies divisions because it is difficult for an adult learner returning to college or coming to college for the first time to start from ground zero.

The Adult Learning Consortium is building on the program that Valdosta State piloted last year and successfully experimented with prior-learning assessment.

“We’re excited to be working with our partners,” Dittmann said. She noted the already strong working relationship BC has with Georgia Southwestern through its cooperative bachelor’s degree programs offered at BC.

She expects BC’s group to develop and refine its tests in the coming year. It has a survey to determine the level and quality of services provided to adult learners. That survey was developed through the Council for Adult Experiential Learning, which has done extensive work on prior learning assessments and adult learning processes.

The survey results will show BC its strengths and weaknesses in order to address the latter and make for friendlier access to BC to minimize the barriers to a college education for adult learners.