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ACE Creates Network of Colleges and Universities Focused on Prior Learning Experiences

With a grant from the Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) Foundation, The American Council on Education (ACE) plans to establish a network of academic institutions and training providers focused on improving the process for earning college credit through prior learning experiences.

Prior learning experiences are “what an individual learns outside the traditional classroom environment,” according to Michele Spires, the executive director for Learning Evaluations at ACE.

“There are all sorts of learning that occurs with employers and employees,” she said. “There are people who are owning individual studies on something that they just love to do as a hobby or a side passion.”

Adult learners, which make up almost half of all students at a post-secondary institution, are students aged 25 and older, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Some challenges faced by adult learners when pursuing their degree includes financial barriers as well as balancing school with work and family obligations. For undergraduate students specifically, 38% are above the age of 25, 58% work while enrolled in college and over 25% are raising children, according to the Lumina Foundation.

Michele Spires

“These [challenges] are fairly standard and even intensified right now with COVID-19,” said Spires. “If we can leverage what learning has occurred outside of traditional classroom that is being validated by [ACE] through our rigorous process and make those connections, it is going to save time and money and really support adults.”

As part of the two-year project, participating schools and organizations will identify transferable skills within various disciplines as well as technical training. Through the use of the Credly Acclaim Digital Credentialing Platform, students can receive badges online for their skills and connect with both colleges and employers.

“Under the leadership of ACE, we feel confident that this initiative will catalyze a high-impact movement inspiring colleges and universities to accept prior learning experiences for post-traditional learners and support flexible academic completion pathways,” said Saúl Valdez, program officer at ECMC Foundation. “This investment underscores the importance of better coordination and connections among students and families, employers and providers, and campus leaders alike.”

The goal of the project is to create an opportunity to close equity gaps as well as build connections between the workforce and higher education institutions, Spires said.

“We are just excited for these partnerships to see how this is going to form opportunities to really help with persistence, education and attainment at all different levels,” she added. “And particularly supporting the underserved and learners who need to be empowered.”

The project will use a TAG approach, which focuses on the three areas of transparency, actionability and guarantee.

Under the transparency stage, learners will receive insight in order to compare options and find the best pathway for them. On the other hand, the process of accepting credentials for transfer programs will become less complicated for colleges.

In terms of actionability, the project will ensure students understand how to use their information, academic credentials and data to connect with colleges. Using their information, students can understand their next steps, whether that is pursuing a certificate or taking a course.

Lastly, , participating colleges will guarantee the credits they plan to transfer from students’ prior learning experiences.

“This will grow and evolve as we continue to look at the needs, what is evaluated and how we build connections to success,” Spires said. “So, our ecosystem will continue to evolve and sustain down the road.”

Outside of the project, academic institutions can also interact with the ACE Engage platform, which allows higher education leaders to hold discussions about challenges on campus in areas such as student success, diversity, equity, inclusion and access.

“This is one way that we can really connect higher education colleagues safely and confidently through collaboration, to look at resources and best practices,” said Spires. “Each institution has its own unique mission and vision. Regions have their own unique challenges. So, there is not one that is a fit for all. But there are some trends and opportunities. We definitely want to make sure that higher ed post-secondary institutions are thinking about how to connect and collaborate.”

Sarah Wood can be reached at swood@diverseeducation.com.