Life experience credits

The decision to invest in workers’ education is one most businesses cannot afford to take lightly. Before business managers take the plunge and send an employee back to the classroom, they need to closely assess what knowledge or training the employee already possesses.

An often-overlooked reality is that students may be able to articulate past learning and receive academic credit toward a formal degree program. If so, both the business and worker can benefit by decreasing the time it will take to complete overall degree requirements and the company’s financial investment, which is generally based on a per-credit cost.

Academic credits can be articulated for a wide range of previous training, such as military service, on-the-job training programs and continuing education or credential programs, said Elden Monday, state vice president for Pennsylvania at the University of Phoenix.

Smart Business spoke with Monday about how corporate leaders can translate employees’ past experience into money saved when sending employees back to school.


What are prior learning credits?
Life experience credits represent previous business experience or courses and credentials obtained outside the traditional collegiate setting. Life experience credits are usually given to adult students who have gained college-level learning through professional training courses, licenses, original certificates, transcript coursework, and personal and professional learning. These credits recognize that the individual has amassed knowledge and skills through experience, if not in the formal classroom setting.


How can employees returning to school get credit for prior learning?
First, the employee needs to find out if the university or college offers prior learning credits to its students — not all do. The registrar’s office can provide this information.

Both manager and employee should be aware that although past learning may be deemed creditable, many of the credits earned outside the university setting will be counted as electives, rather than as credit toward specific degree requirements. Even so, elective credits are required for degree completion, and articulated credit can be very valuable in terms of both time and money.


How can a manager help determine what opportunities exist for prior learning credit?
Any time a corporation is investing in the education of its employees, there should be a solid plan that outlines the degree program and expected outcomes for both the individual and the business. Before sitting down together to define this plan, the manager should ask the employee to create a list of all learning and training he or she has encountered in the professional, post-secondary setting.

Good sources of this information include resumes, certification and completion certificates, transcripts and personnel records. It is important to realize that this list will be a starting point — the school the employee plans to attend will need to conduct a thorough prior learning assessment to determine whether academic credit can be awarded.


How do schools determine what prior learning experiences are credit-worthy?
Life experience learning in any form must be evaluated by the university or college to determine how much, if any, credit can be awarded. Factors such as content, duration and accreditation factor heavily into this decision. The employee should be prepared to provide certificates, course syllabi or curriculum, and other relevant information about any classes, seminars or workshops he or she has taken. In some cases, a detailed application, portfolio or even a test to assess knowledge may be required.

To evaluate whether past learning merits degree credit, many universities work closely with an organization called the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (CREDIT). The service helps connect workplace learning with universities by helping adult students get academic credit for courses outside traditional degree programs. This is especially true of corporate training programs in which employees are receiving specialized instruction to enhance on-the-job performance.


How can more companies and their employees take advantage of prior learning credits?
While many corporations are becoming savvy about life experience credits, the opportunities are not widely known. Business managers may want to consider connecting with the American Council on Education’s CREDIT network to determine academic credit eligibility for in-house training or courses.

In addition, it is worth noting that it does take time for an employee to gather all the necessary background information, and doing so can be inconvenient (especially if the company’s corporate training programs have not been well-documented). Creating a robust filing system with a detailed description of internal training programs is a great first step toward increasing the rewards and diminishing expense for both employees and the company.


Elden Monday is the state vice president for the Pennsylvania campuses of University of Phoenix, a national leader in higher education for working adults. Reach Monday at (610) 989-0880, ext. 1131 or [email protected].