Anne Arundel Community College is offering course credit for those who have accumulated years of skills in a particular field outside the classroom.
The program, called the Prior Learning Assessment, is designed for former college students who have been in the workforce for many years and are headed back to school to gain more college experience or update skills for current jobs, school officials said. The school will hold information sessions Oct. 13 and Nov. 10, and recently began registration for its winter term.
"We have a lot of adult learners who come with experience in the workplace and volunteer opportunities who are coming with college-level learning and trying to translate that," said Frances Turcott, director of AACC's off-site and weekend college program. "They are also coming out of the military, and we recognize that that is valuable learning as well."
The school offers credit for proficiency in areas related to college-level courses. Among the 30 courses for which AACC awards credit are American government, calculus, principles of macroeconomics, introductory psychology and U.S. history. Students can then use those credits toward gaining a degree at AACC.
AACC uses tests to measure proficiency such as the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) or the military's Defense Activity for Nontraditional Education Support. Students who pass the exam get the direct credit equivalency of a particular course. Each course comes with its particular CLEP score for earning credit.
Last year, 117 students took the CLEP exam toward enrolling in the program, Turcott said. Most of the students who enroll in the school's Prior Learning Assessment are in their 30s and 40s, she said.
"You are going to see somebody who has been in the work setting for at least five years," said Turcott, who added that many students who enroll "have reached a point in their lives where they recognize that they need better credentials in order to advance in their careers or earn a better living."
Turcott, who advises prospective students for the Prior Learning Assessment, said the process begins with a discussion about particular goals for gaining degree credit. The student's goal must coincide with a course that the college offers. Sometimes, she said, those with banking experience seek to gain credit toward becoming a teacher, but their goal doesn't match what the school is offering for credit.
"It doesn't matter whether they've attended a college or university," Turcott said. "This learning is acquired through their job or their volunteer activities. One of the most important factors about this process is that it doesn't matter how long they've been learning this activity. What matters is if they have achieved the college-level learning outcomes for a particular course."
The school also allows students to complete a portfolio for credit that demonstrates experience and knowledge, particularly outside of the classroom.
"The credit by portfolio is when an adult student identifies the course that they feel in their gut that they could teach because they know this so well. … They create a portfolio and address all the learning outcomes for the course and provide documents proving they have mastered college-level learning for the course," she said.
Turcott said that the portfolio assessment program is stringent; only four students have qualified in the last three years, all human services students who have worked in counseling settings.
"It is available in primarily occupational fields, such as business administration, human services, engineering," Turcott said. "It's a very intensive process of advising the student and getting a feel for the courses in which they want a challenge."