Life Experience Degrees Gain New Support Through Colorado Educational Bill

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Life experience degrees are gaining a lot of attention. On March 23, the Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, signed House Bill 12-1072 which will provide students the opportunity to acquire “prior learning” or life experience credit toward higher education degrees. The bill is endorsed by the Colorado Department of Higher Education and will put forth the requirement for state supported colleges and universities to adopt policies for awarding academic credit to students for life experience such as that obtained on the job by military training. The new measures would be effective and in place for the 2013-14 academic year. This move will likely be followed by other states in regulating and offering alternative paths for gaining a higher education degree.

Some find a life experience degree to be a good backup to their resume. They don’t pretend it is a replacement for a traditional study path but rather an alternative to the traditional path of study. They are proud of their career ...

The Colorado initiative is just one new development in higher education concerning prior learning credit and it is bringing out both critics and supporters. No matter whether it is called prior learning credit, life experience credit, or work experience credit the titles are synonymous for giving credit toward a degree or a degree itself for experience one obtains directly versus credit obtained for work completed in a traditional classroom or through an online studying course. An example might be credit toward a child and family study degree for someone that has spent 15 years coaching little league and leading a youth group at their church. Such experience would have to be documented and then reviewed by the awarding institution. Work experience in the military or as a volunteer in a non-profit is another example.

Many warn that this is a way of cheating the long time system of getting a degree by spending hours in a classroom. The same critics were quick to discard the growing popularity and acceptance of online study programs. Now almost every college and university in the nation offers online courses or study degrees that can be completed online. It is an acceptance of allowing long distance learning or “on my own time” learning for busy adults that are attempting to work while studying toward a degree or for at-home mothers that are pursuing degrees while their babies grow.

A recent study by Pew Research Center showed that the general public was less likely to recognize that an online study earned degree held as much merit as one earned in a classroom when compared to College and University Presidents. This research shows that there is a long way to go in educating the public that online study can be as instructive as classroom attended study. The same can be said for educating the general public that life experience and work experience deserves credit toward a degree.

Some find a life experience degree to be a good backup to their resume. They don’t pretend it is a replacement for a traditional study path but rather an alternative to the traditional path of study. They are proud of their career paths and life work that has gained them the degree credit and consider in many ways that hands on experience can be more important than reading a textbook or attending a lecture.

Missy Chunn is one of the people that believes her work experience is deserving of helping her earn a degree. She is in the process of attempting to gain credit for her life and work experience. Ms. Chunn is currently completing her paperwork submission to Almeda University and notes the effort is time consuming but will be worth it in the end.

“I spent several years expecting that I would someday find the time to begin a degree pursuit at a nearby local college. It never happened”, said Ms. Chunn.

“I read an article about life experience credit and thought it might be an option. I had a few credits from courses I had completed before I was married. Along with that credit and life experience credit for my 21 years of working as a head bookkeeper and a seasonal tax preparer it will hopefully get me much closer to my goal of a degree.”

Online studying is changing the atmosphere of learning on many levels. Differences can be seen from the efforts of such services like Kahn Academy being used in grade schools to home study programs for grade school children. The same types of programs are available to high school students as well. Online study and life or work experience credit is awarded in many private and public college level schools already. This credit often includes submission of proof of the experience as well as written essays or papers detailing the experience and learned skills.

Life experience degrees are the next step in this path and while many may not yet grasp the change occurring in education due to the technological advances that allow it, the changes are occurring and are here to stay.

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