Turning Life Experience Into Credit Hours at Wiregrass

Barbara Kieker

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Recognizing that college-level learning often takes place outside of a classroom, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College offers a path for students to apply for college credit based on their portfolio of life experiences.  Credits are awarded through faculty evaluation of a student's documented work and life experiences including corporate training programs, apprenticeships, professional certifications or licensure, and institutional exemption exams.  A minimum of 25 percent of the academic program must be taken at Wiregrass. 

"We all know people – or we are the people – who are the best in their field but have no formal credentials.  And those formal credentials can often be the key to opening doors to management level jobs," said Roy Warren, Wiregrass Dean of Technical and Industrial Programs. 

“We want to provide a way for individuals to achieve a degree without having to take basic coursework in subjects they have already mastered.” 

Wiregrass launched the prior-learning assessment program this year and has received positive response from both students and employers.  In particular, the law enforcement, construction, electronics and telecommunications industries have shown interest. 

"Although we haven't marketed the program a lot, we've had a lot of interest.  People are hearing more about it and calling in with questions," Warren said. 

How it works

Prior-learning assessment occurs in one of three ways at Wiregrass.  First and easiest is earning credit hours by completing a military or corporate training program that has already been assigned recommended credit hours by the American Council of Education.  When such a program appears on a student's application, the Wiregrass registrar will assign the appropriate credit hours. 

The second way to earn credit for a life experience is by participating in a program that covers the same subject matter as a required course.  For example, certain peace-officer training covers the same material in required courses in the criminal justice program. 

"We call this type of prior learning "crosswalks."  Our faculty are working on identifying crosswalks in all areas," Warren said. 

The third way to earn credit is to build a student portfolio that presents relevant life and work experience.  Students, who want to pursue this path, meet with faculty and, on their recommendation, attend a workshop on how to put together a resume and match coursework to their experience. 

"The portfolio can include a wide variety of documentation – from paperwork providing proof of licensure or certification and corporate training records to videos of the student performing a task to demonstrate mastery of a skill," Warren said. 

"One example of a videotaped task would be a student installing a connector on a fiber cable. This visual aid is a tool the faculty can use in determining the mastery of a skill by the student, and it provides a key component that can be used in the overall consideration and recommendation of awarding credit for the class."

Faculty reviews each student portfolio and may interview the student to ask specific questions and provide feedback.  The faculty then makes a recommendation for credit hours, which must be approved by the Wiregrass Dean.

Two years in the making

Warren started thinking about the idea of assigning credit for prior learning a couple of years ago based on his own life experience.  A former Marine, he specialized in avionics and worked on electronic components in million-dollar aircraft. 

"If I had to take a basic electronics class to get a degree, I probably wouldn't have done it," Warren said. 

Providing credit for prior learning helps students save time and money, making it more likely they will choose to pursue a higher-level degree. 

More information on the prior-learning assessment program at Wiregrass is available at www.wiregrass.edu or contact Kimala Howard at 229-333-2100, ext. 1368 or [email protected].

About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.