Published on 2012/11/21

Facilitating Student Success through the Acceptance of Credit in Transfer

By accepting credit and work done at prior institutions and through other learning providers, higher education institutions can take a big step toward making colleges and universities work for today’s adult student.

Today’s tight and demanding job market—crowded with well-established Baby Boomers and Gen X and Y-ers struggling to break out from entry-level positions—requires every adult to bring their very best to their careers and job searches. Widely publicized research shows that the U.S. has over 43 million adults (25-64 years old) with some college but no degree, and those without a bachelor’s degree earn at least 45 percent less than those with one. Our collective experience and general knowledge also tells us that securing the 120 credit hours needed for a bachelor’s degree can be a long and arduous process, especially for an adult learner who is working full-time and raising a family on top of their continuing education.

Since the confines of the credit hour and the length of the bachelor’s degree is the purview of state governments, regional accrediting bodies, and the U.S. Department of Education, educators must ask themselves: what else can be done to facilitate student success in degree completion? The solution, at least in part, lies in the acceptance of credits in transfer.

At Colorado State University-Global Campus, we have created policies that allow for credit from “other” organizations to be considered at the collegiate level. This defies the traditional university notion that learning must be accomplished in a straight line, from start to finish at the same institution. Learning is undoubtedly progressive, built upon our previous lessons and expanded, so the straight line concept is a clean one in an ideal world. Life, however, is often disjointed and filled with detours and dead ends. This should not only be acknowledged and understood as fact, but it should be valued and utilized. Learning is no longer linear. And, in the fast-paced professional world, the advanced knowledge and skills that are necessary must be able to evolve as quickly as the environment around them. Therefore, learning outcomes achievement has become the focus rather than the source of knowledge. What do students need to know before they move into core degree courses or before they can graduate? More importantly, how can what they have learned ultimately help them secure and keep a job?

When evaluating prior learning for potential transfer, CSU-Global program faculty carefully consider learning outcomes, knowledge needed to complete successive CSU-Global coursework, and skills needed for successful employment. This evaluation can apply to learning from previous college and university experience, corporate trainings, military or law enforcement courses, and many other educational experiences that can be documented for review. This highly collaborative process between CSU-Global and external providers is not a novel approach, but we feel it to be necessary as we strive to equip students in the subject matter areas that their education and industry demand. We can minimize the time spent in general education and on elective credit that, while worthwhile, have learning outcomes that could be met through alternative sources.

Our Principles of Microeconomics and Accounting Basics courses are good examples. While they provide a solid foundation for students to build toward more complex higher-level courses, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of equivalent courses that provide the same basic information, derived from the same historic research and generally accepted governing bodies around the U.S. and abroad. This realization, born from strict academic standards without the typical academic self-importance, is why CSU-Global is the first university to provide transfer credit for Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) if students can pass a faculty-reviewed and proctored assessment test; why it accepts nearly all courses approved by American Council on Education (ACE); and why it created its Prior Learning Assessment program which allows students with professional experience the ability to demonstrate they have obtained the learning outcomes for specifically targeted courses through a comprehensive, faculty-assessed projects.

At CSU-Global, it is not whether you completed courses through us, but whether you have advanced your learning and moved towards graduation. So, is it working? CSU-Global’s Fall 2009 to Fall 2012 cohort reflects a 73 percent graduation/retention rate; and its Fall 2012 graduates scored in the 87 percent percentile for the ETS Proficiency Profile which is administered to students at over 400 institutions each year and evaluates their reading, writing, critical thinking, and math skills. And importantly, 93 percent of its alumni from the Spring 2012 survey reported that they are employed in paying jobs, and 38 percent of these reported getting a better job in their field, 27 percent reported they got a job in a new field, and 41 percent reported that they got a promotion in their own organization. Accepting transfer credit is not the only reason for this level of student success; but it is one of the many factors within our carefully constructed framework to better facilitate student achievement and to help can save students thousands of dollars in educational expenses and future financial aid loan repayments, even if it means the university forgoes some tuition revenue in the process.

As the world continues to move at a faster pace driven by technology and globalization, jobs will require even higher levels of education and skill proficiencies. It is incumbent upon educators to identify new pathways and solutions to enable workplace preparedness for Americans, and the acceptance of credit in transfer is an important step in this progression.

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Readers Comments

Zandra Thomas 2012/11/21 at 9:36 am

Accepting MOOCs for credit was not only a progressive and open-minded move, but also a really savvy business move for CSU-Global. In my understanding, the majority of people who pursue MOOCs are not undergraduate or even graduate students; they are working professionals, and they are from all over the world (India, Brazil, Russia, etc.).

By accepting MOOCs for credit, CSU-Global is opening its doors to two groups of potential students who, firstly, have already demonstrated their interest in upgrading their skills and knowledge by enrolling in a MOOC, and secondly, are exactly the two populations who are flocking to higher education these days: adults and international students looking for a U.S. education.

CSU-Global is very well-positioned for the future of higher ed and hopefully other institutions will follow suit.

Frank Gowen 2012/11/21 at 1:58 pm

My only hesitation with acceptance of outside credits and of wide varieties of prior learning is the quality and accuracy of the assessment methods that would have to be developed to accommodate all these learners from different backgrounds, and to ensure that their skills were “up to snuff.”

I think developing the proper assessments will take a lot of time and thought, and probably a lot of trial and error. As recognition of prior learning continues to gain popularity in the US, I can only hope that this crucial process doesn’t get rushed, and that assessment quality doesn’t suffer, because in the long-run, such oversights could damage the quality and reputation of higher education in the U.S.

Ingrid Ramos Nakamura 2013/01/24 at 2:17 pm

I think someone has got to build trust in this more open transfer system framework, and CSU-Global seems like the right candidate. Particularly because they are a public, online institution and so have the public good in mind.

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