Getting College Credit for Prior Learning

credit for prior learning

Having college credits before you even finish your first semester on campus is a great way to save money. Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is helping students do just that with its Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) program. Since the program’s launch in January 2016, about 100 students have earned a combined total of more than 350 credits through CPL. Administrators expect the program to expand in the coming semesters.

We asked Alverno’s Rosland Briggs-Gammon, assessment coordinator and coach,  Assessment and Outreach Center, and Carole Chabries, Ph.D., dean, School of Adult Learning and New Initiatives, to tell us more about the new program and how it’s benefiting students*.

MCPT: Can you briefly describe the process a student goes through to receive Credit for Prior Learning?

Alverno: Alverno offers several paths for students to seek CPL: through initial assessments when they first enroll; through external exams such as Advanced Placement; and through creating a portfolio or otherwise demonstrating performance.

Once students are considered eligible, faculty members establish the criteria and assessments that will demonstrate whether the students meet the same outcomes and standards as students who take the courses for which they are seeking credit.

MCPT: How long does the process take from filling out the initial CPL application to receiving credit?

Alverno: Students who choose the portfolio or performance option typically take longer to go through the process, as they are compiling and creating information. Those who go through the initial assessment typically spend about two hours being assessed and have their results within two weeks.

MCPT: When can students apply for CPL?

Alverno: Students are eligible to seek CPL after they are accepted to Alverno. Students who choose the initial assessment typically complete that before classes start. Because faculty determine students’ eligibility and design the assessments for the more extensive options, those processes usually start after classes begin.

Students can submit interest forms at any time. We keep the timing flexible because we want students to always be able to learn at a level that challenges them. Many of our transfer and adult evening and online students learn about CPL at orientation and apply then. Some of our students apply in their senior year at Alverno because they believe they can demonstrate outcomes required for their majors.

MCPT: What is the cost of receiving Credit for Prior Learning compared to the cost of taking a class or classes that credit might cover?

Alverno: Our goal is to keep the cost of CPL affordable for students. Our fees cover the administrative cost of running the assessments; none are higher than $150.

Savings for students who earn CPL varies by the cost of the program they’re enrolled in. Recently, a student who earned CPL through the portfolio assessment referred to her “$8,000 paper”—her savings from earning nine credits via CPL instead of enrolling in three courses.

MCPT: Can you give us some examples of how past experiences translated into course credit?

Alverno: One student earned nine credits for prior learning towards her communications degree. For her portfolio, she demonstrated how her experiences working with voter engagement campaigns, mobilizing communities to vote and creating communication plans met the outcomes for Project Management, Community Mobilization and Political Communication courses. Earning the nine credits allowed her to graduate a semester earlier than she had expected.

Another student earned nine credits for three courses required for her business and management degree. In her portfolio, she demonstrated how the college-level learning from her three years of operating a small business met the outcomes for small business management and operations courses. For her, the CPL portfolio she created will allow her to graduate three semesters earlier than she had planned.

*Our co-founder, Jack Schacht, recently wrote an article about how students can test of their first year of college through the often-forgotten College Level Exam Program. In this interview with Alverno College, our staff writer Tina Kapinos reveals yet another way to earn college credit and lower college costs.



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