Many people step immediately from the stage at their high school graduation into the Human Resources Department of their new employer. As distance learning has become more available, many of those workers are now contemplating obtaining a college degree, and many universities are adapting to meet these new students’ needs. Setting up online classes is just the first step to enticing people who already are juggling work and families back into the classroom.
These potential students often don’t have four years to devote to earning a bachelor’s degree. Nor are they interested in investing time and money in acquiring skills they have already learned in the workplace. They generally have specific goals in mind, and they want to achieve those goals in a reasonable amount of time, with a modicum of money spent. To further these goals, distance learning universities are exploring methods of awarding credit hours to students for work and life experience.
It is difficult to design a fill-in-the-blank test to assess competency in a given area. Instead, university officials have turned to what are termed portfolio assessments. Students gather samples of their work, letters of recommendation, and workplace courses they’ve attended, to present to faculty members. To ensure that submitted portfolios meet colleges’ and accrediting agencies’ standards, many institutions require that students take a portfolio development course before they are eligible to apply for credit using this mechanism.
The Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) is compiling standards to be applied across the board, to assist institutions in their quest to allow students to earn credit for their life experiences.
According to the DETC, each portfolio should contain the following information:
- The skills to be assessed
- How those skills were acquired
- The equivalent college level course
- Proof that the student learned those skills
The DETC says that institutions should take into consideration these factors:
- The portfolios show a balance between theory and practical application of the skills learned
- Appropriate subject matter and academic experts are to perform the assessments
- The policies and procedures involved in the process should be public and accessible
- Both experts and procedures are to be kept up to date
- Fees are to be based on the services performed during the assessment process, not on the number of credit hours awarded
- No more than 1/4 of the hours required for a degree may be awarded for portfolio assessments
Portfolios are to be typewritten, double-spaced, numbered, and should include:
- Cover sheet
- Letter of Purpose (a cover letter)
- Copies of College Transcripts
- Table of Contents
- Life History
- Chronological Time-Line
- Career and Life Goals Statement
- Competency Statement
Once a student has made sure that his portfolio is complete and accurate, he submits two copies of the portfolio to an advisor. The advisor will forward the portfolio to an appropriate faculty member, who will assess the portfolio and award or deny credit. Portfolio credit is added to a student’s earned hours, but does not affect a student’s grade point average. The institution commonly keeps the portfolio, so the student should retain copies for his own records.