Prior Learning Experience for Credit: A Faculty Question

Area B Representative

In recent months, interest has increased in prior learning experience and the provisions for awarding credit for previous learning experiences.  While no decisions have been made regarding what form this credit will take, faculty should be aware of what these terms mean and how the awarding of prior learning experience credit might impact departments and colleges. 

Prior learning experience can come from a variety of sources, although the most commonly considered form of prior learning experience for credit is through military service.  In 2012, Assembly Member Marty Block introduced AB 2462, which stated that, “By July 1, 2015, the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, using common course descriptors and pertinent recommendations of the American Council on Education, shall determine for which courses credit should be awarded for prior military experience.”  The Chancellor’s Office created a task force that included members of the Academic Senate for California Community College, veterans’ coordinators, and interested parties from colleges which serve significant numbers of veterans. This task force was charged to consider the means by which the goals of AB 2462 could be accomplished.  Discussions within the group are ongoing, as a number of considerations must be taken into account. One of the areas of most interest to the faculty is the need to include discipline experts to review the prior experience and determine appropriate credit for these experiences, as well as to determine the method by which this prior learning would be assessed.  In some cases, for example, only a portion of credit for a full course could be awarded, depending on the scope of the experience.  As concerns also exist regarding the cost of the review of these experiences, as has been the case with credit by exam, the ASCCC passed resolution 7.01 S16, which resolved to work with the Chancellor’s Office and other stakeholders to determine the costs of providing credit for prior military experience as well as working in conjunction with these groups to “secure sufficient and ongoing funding to cover the costs for colleges to ensure the timely implementation and ongoing awarding of credit for prior military experience.“  

Military experience is currently the most common form of credit for prior learning experience.  However, with the ongoing implementation of baccalaureate degrees at the 15 pilot colleges in the California Community College System, interest has arisen in exploring alternative forms of prior learning experience, especially in those fields in which significant prior work experience in the field might be used.  As the baccalaureate degrees are primarily in career technical fields, some students entering these programs undoubtedly will have previous experience that they might wish to use to waive course requirements or replace certain classes.  In order to ensure that faculty are actively included in these discussions, the ASCCC passed resolution 7.02 S16, which states, “Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges work with the Chancellor’s Office and other interested stakeholders to explore the option of awarding credit for forms of prior learning and experience outside of those involving military experience.”

Providing credit for prior learning experience might be a means by which to reward students for their experiences, but it can have unintended consequences if it is not done correctly.  Students who only receive partial credit for a course might have to take the course in its entirety, meaning that the credits are really of limited use. Of more concern is the possibility that a student might be given credit for a course which contains components that the student had not learned in his or her prior learning experiences, resulting in a gap in the student’s knowledge that could be problematic as the student moves forward with his or her course of study. 

While discussions regarding prior learning experience are just beginning at the district and college level, local faculty must be involved in these discussions from the start.  Local senate presidents, curriculum chairs, and other interested faculty, including discipline faculty in areas that are being considered for a baccalaureate degree, should work together to ensure that decisions regarding prior learning experience for credit are undertaken with significant faculty involvement.  In addition, student services faculty and staff should be involved in any discussions of awarding of credit, as should those involved in articulation and other transfer agreements.  Ultimately, with the cooperation and involvement of all stakeholders, colleges can provide students with fair and realistic evaluations of prior learning experience and can ensure that proper credit is given in these areas when justified.