Alternative Pathways to a College Degree
By Alicia Jacobs, Excelsior Life Staff --
For adult learners, time and cost can be obstacles towards earning a degree. However, there are alternative pathways that can save time and thousands of dollars for individuals with some college background and/or demonstrated knowledge from real world experience. Three options include testing, transfer of credits, or a prior learning assessment (PLA) portfolio.
In 1976, Excelsior College began offering exams for college credit nationwide. In 2012, Excelsior College accepted 14,046 transfer students bringing with them more than 616,000 credits. At Excelsior’s current tuition rate, this savings, which Excelsior calls its Knowledge Value Index, had an economic value of $219 million.
Excelsior Life sat down with Mark Michalisin, executive director of Business Development, Center of Educational Management at Excelsior College, and Roberto Figueroa, executive director, Admissions, to discuss three popular pathways to a degree that can save time and money.
Pathway 1 - Pursuing credit by exam at Excelsior College. Excelsior College Examinations (ECEs), are proficiency exams within a variety of subjects ranging from accounting, biology, philosophy, and economics. These three- and six-credit exams enable individuals to earn college credit by demonstrating their knowledge and expected learning outcomes. Unlike the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) or DANTES, students who earn credit through an ECE by achieving a “C” or higher, earn a letter grade on a college transcript.
To prepare for a proficiency exam, Michalisin suggests registering for its corresponding practice exam. Exams are designed for motivated, self-disciplined learners who study on their own time and at own pace, using a variety of study materials including Open Educational Resources (OER). Excelsior College has identified OER’s readily available on the web at no or low-cost for each of its exams. In addition, Excelsior has matched more than 30 Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to its existing exam programs, providing a pathway to credit.
Exams are administered at more than 4,500 secure, Pearson VUE testing facilities worldwide.
Pathway 2 - Most students enroll in Excelsior College with 25 to 75 percent of their college degree requirements already completed. Excelsior College conducts a thorough review of each student’s incoming transcript to determine not only the eligibility of credit for transfer (must be from an accredited institution) but which credits meet degree requirements within the student’s chosen degree program at Excelsior.
In addition, Excelsior accepts non-collegiate sources of credit, such as corporate or military training programs, that have been reviewed and recommended for credit by ACE-CREDIT or the National College Credit Recommendation Service. Excelsior also accepts credit earned through nontraditional learning programs e.g. GE’s Renewables Wind Technician Certification Program, that have been evaluated for academic and psychometric qualities by internal Excelsior teams consisting of academic faculty, subject matter experts, and psychometricians.
Pathway 3 - The evaluation and assessment of an individual's life learning for college credit, certification, or advanced standing is called prior learning assessment (PLA). Excelsior’s portfolio assessment is conducted through LearningCounts.org at the Center for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).
PLA encompasses a variety of tools to evaluate learning acquired outside the traditional college classroom. One of these methods is portfolio assessment. When existing standardized examinations or other methods of evaluation are not available, portfolio assessment provides a means by which students may have the learning they have achieved evaluated by teams of faculty for college-level equivalency. LearningCounts.org will provide portfolio assessment services for students enrolled or interested in Excelsior College.
Research has shown that students who received PLA credit completed degrees at much higher rates than students who do not utilize PLA. Students using PLA also had higher persistence rates and a faster time to completion.
Figueroa explains, “Each of the three options are cost effective and potentially a faster way to complete a degree in a difficult economy.”