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Pennsylvania’s Public Universities Attracting Adults with Prior Learning Assessment

Pennsylvania’s 14 public universities, who are prioritizing workforce development more than ever before, will use prior learning assessment and stackable credentials to serve more adult students.

According to Christopher Reber, the executive dean of Clarion University Venango College campus, the move is being made in part because Pennsylvania students lack the same access to two-year institutions that students in other parts of the country enjoy. As a result, the four-year system offers a number of associate degrees and one-year certificates in addition to the typical crop of four-year programming.

“We offer the best of both worlds,” Reber told Paul Fain from Inside Higher Ed.

While the system already does prior learning assessments, a partnership with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning will expand the credits they are able to give. As a result of the partnership, students will be able to seek and receive credits for on-the-job learning, technical training programs and massive open online courses.

“We’re going to open it up to any kind of prior learning that people are bringing,” said John Cavanaugh, the system’s chancellor, who added that the prior learning would have to be at a college level. “You’re still going to have to demonstrate that you’ve got the learning before that translates to credit.”

However, the system’s professors are not preparing the ticker tape in the wake of the decision. On top of seeing this as an admission that higher education institutions do not have a lock on college-level learning, some educators see this as a threat to their livelihood.

“It changes who generates the credits,” Steve Hicks, an English professor at Loch Haven University and president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, the system’s primary union, told Fain. “Potentially there’s a job loss there.”

However, Cavanaugh countered those claims by pointing out that Pennsylvania’s system has long been awarding credits to students who completed the College Level Examination Program testing. He said moving to the portfolio method of prior learning assessment was not too major a change.

“The notion that this is credit for living is just not the case,” said Cavanaugh.