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NCWE Board Member Blog - Sue Murray
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Industry Certifications are a Valuable Tool for PLA



    Suzette Murray
    Assistant Vice President, Career
     and Technical Education
    Waubonsee Community College
    smurray@waubonsee.edu

 

Attending class for a specific period of time, performing virtual tasks on a computer or learning in a lab environment are traditional ways to gain knowledge and skills. However, adults returning to college often have a variety of experiences that have led to learning through non-traditional avenues. Progressive community colleges are seeking ways to award credit for these experiences to address the skills gap and reduce time to completion.

Students over the age of 25 are the new norm and account for nearly 40 percent of all U.S. undergraduate enrollments (NCES, 2016). As community college administrators, we know that college students are balancing multiple responsibilities— parenting, working —- often resulting in part-time attendance. Because of these commitments and other factors, adult learners are spending more time in pursuit of their degrees, often more than three years for an associate degree. At Waubonsee Community College, our Title V grant research uncovered the fact that our students take an average of 3.5 years to complete. Nationally, a majority never complete their degrees (NCES, 2011). However, a practice known as credit for prior learning is helping more adults graduate and in a shorter period of time.

Credit for prior learning involves recognizing and awarding credit for knowledge gained outside of the traditional college classroom setting. Experiences are evaluated by faculty to determine if they are equivalent to college-level learning and merit the awarding of academic credit. Common types of prior learning demonstration include:

  • Credit by examination – internally developed by faculty or national exams like CLEP and DSST Military training
  • Credit by portfolio
  • American Council on Education (ACE) – reviewed professional and workplace training
  • Professional licensure and certifications
Ready to award credit for PLA?
Industry credentials indicate that competencies and standards valued by experts have been achieved. Quality standards and benchmarks set by industry ensure that critical knowledge and skills have been attained and validated. In addition to helping advance the education of individual students through PLA, industry standards can also help institutions remain competitive; aligning courses with certification outcomes is a best practice in a global economy where abilities, skills and knowledge are valued and highly regarded.

For example, at Waubonsee Community College, we offer a computer aided drafting course (CAD 240) that teaches the SolidWorks software package; if a student presents a Certified SolidWorks Associate or Certified SolidWorks Professional industry certification, he/she would receive prior learning credit for CAD 240. This is possible because the faculty member has aligned the outcomes for the class with the certification standards. This information is shared with the Registrar’s office, admissions and marketing as part of a cohesive effort to recruit and retain students.

Adult students who earn credit for college-level learning outside of the classroom, are empowered and this win-win scenario boosts retention and completion. Collaborating with organizations by linking PLA and industry certifications will help us serve students and remove barriers to completion and advancement in the workforce.

“Along with faculty, I am in the process of evaluating over 70 industry certifications for credit granting opportunities,” says Ne’Keisha Stepney, Dean of Business and Career Technologies, Waubonsee Community College. “I view this as a way to recruit students, build programs and develop relationships with employers. It is truly a win-win opportunity.”

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