Helping Students Succeed by Recognizing and Awarding Their Experience
It may seem counterintuitive: Why would University of Phoenix want to accept transfer credits from other institutions or award a student credit based on past work experiences or training? Or why would it give students credit for courses they take at alternative credit providers? Shouldn’t the student earn every credit at University of Phoenix?
Devin Andrews, Vice President in the Office of Admissions & Evaluation, has a simple answer: Awarding students the credit they deserve is in the best service of the student.
“The key is, when you’re working with adult learners, you have to find ways to meet them where they are. They are coming with a lot. They’re coming with college credits. They’re coming with experience. If we don’t find ways to make it work, they’re going to struggle with how to finish,” says Andrews, who was recently interviewed in depth by the online newspaper EvoLLLution. “What we know about our students is transfer credit is the best predictor for student success.”
This approach is becoming more common throughout higher education, but University of Phoenix has always served an adult learner population, and has mechanisms in place to give students credit for prior college coursework. “Moreover, the University has Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) as part of its toolkit, so that students who have earned credentials on the job, or have had certain life experiences, can potentially gain credit for those. We’ve done this since the early days of the University. We were definitely pioneers in that space.” says Andrews.
Before granting credit, University of Phoenix assesses what the student has done. Let’s look at the three ways students might be given credit — with an emphasis on might. The university makes no promise that prior courses or work experiences will count toward a UOPX degree.
Prior college coursework
Generally, it’s easier for a student to transfer general education credits than to get credit for courses required for his or her major. “For most institutions, college level English comp is college level English comp,” says Andrews. Courses at community colleges may transfer for those general education credits, but vocational or remedial courses will not. There is a lot of diversity across institutions, and that can make it tough to assess which courses match the courses at UOPX, particularly when they are required for certain majors. “Finding those matches — and making sure you’re true to the institution — is not an easy thing,” she says.
While University of Phoenix accepts credits from institutions that have regional or national accreditation, it might not be able to accept coursework from too long ago. For instance, a student may not get credit for a technology course taken 10 years ago, since the course material would be out of date today.
The University keeps a database of its credit transfer decisions, and it goes back many years. That way, those evaluating transcripts can know whether a particular course at another institution has been evaluated before and whether its credits can be transferred. It helps the University be more efficient while assessing transcripts — and it helps it be consistent, Andrews says.
Prior Learning Assessment
Adult learners bring a lot to the table. They may have been entrepreneurs who started their own businesses. They may have extensive volunteer experience. Depending on a student’s academic plan, he or she can begin the conversation with an academic counselor on how to get that experience evaluated for potential credit.
The student submits a PLA assessment application. If the student has a certification as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), the student would need to show proof of that certification in a portfolio that would go to a PLA evaluator team. If the student has experience as a hospice volunteer, the student would be asked to write an experiential essay, perhaps about what the student has learned about grief or the dying process. These experiential essays are evaluated by a trained faculty member to determine if the learning demonstrated can result in college credit toward their degree.
Alternative Credit Providers
Say you’re a student who has only two more elective courses to finish your degree. A UOPX academic counselor might suggest you turn to an alternative online program such as: Sophia, Straighterline, Study.com, or Skillsoft. These organizations are not colleges or universities, but their courses are evaluated by the American Council of Education for their equivalency to college courses, and University of Phoenix may award credit for the coursework.
“It’s a great opportunity for students,” says Andrews. “It’s giving them a quicker pathway and a cheaper pathway to get some of their electives out of the way. It helps them persist.”
And persistence, for adult learners, is key, she says. “The bottom line is, we know students are paying a lot of money to go to college… Anything we can do to help them reduce that cost, we should be doing.”