College Readiness: A Two-Way Street

Originally published in the January 2019 issue of RP Group's Perspectives Newsletter

By Alice Perez, Vice Chancellor of Educational Services, California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office

Matthew C. might not think he’s a typical community college student. Yet, he has a lot in common with our more than 750,000 students who are similarly “non-traditional” (age 25 and up) and who enroll in our colleges with varying levels of knowledge and experience and with competing priorities like career and family. 

For years, we have focused on readying students for college. However, with significant Vision for Success goals to achieve, we are shifting the paradigm to focus on readying our colleges to meet the unique needs of this large and diverse non-traditional student population. Readiness is a two-way street, and colleges and students both benefit when we better serve students like Matthew

Many non-traditional students come to us with college-level skills gained through military, workplace, and civic experiences. They hold industry credentials, are graduates of public service academies and, like Matthew, were trained for highly specialized military occupations. Credit for prior learning (CPL) is a strategy to help students get credit for what they already know. 

Research indicates that students who earn credit for their college-level skills and knowledge: 

  • Are roughly twice as likely to complete a degree than those who do not
  • Accumulate more credits through coursework at the institution than their counterparts
  • Save an average of 6-10 months in time to degree compared to non-CPL counterparts

A 2016 RP Group report suggests that California Community Colleges need new policies to help students with prior learning earn credit for degree-applicable courses (general education and program requirements), and to build faculty capacity to lead this work on their campuses. 

The Chancellor’s Office is considering new policy that will help catalyze more consistent, equitable, and transparent practices than are currently supported by our Credit by Exam policy (Title 5 Section 55050). Based on what we have seen in colleges across the country, we believe that when done with a focus on quality and integrity, CPL can be a win for students and colleges alike.

CPL can help students save time and money towards degree. In California, there are more than 1.7 million military veterans and 4 million workers with some college and no degree who are likely to turn to California Community Colleges to upskill for new jobs, complete training for a promotion, or prepare for university transfer. CPL can help non-traditional students get a jump-start with credit, but more importantly, students feel a sense of belonging when we value their prior learning. Further, more than half of Californians with some college but no degree are people of color; accelerating their educational progress is an equity imperative. 

CPL can help colleges meet Student Centered Funding Formula metrics. The Vision for Success asks colleges to increase the share of students who transfer or complete certificates or degrees and to close achievement gaps. CPL helps by accelerating students’ time to complete. In addition, students who earn CPL tend to earn more credits at the institution than their non-CPL counterparts, which translates to increased enrollment for colleges — the exact opposite of what some might expect. Helping students complete a quality program faster increases our colleges’ value proposition. 

CPL has the support of two important bodies in California: the legislature and the Academic Senate. New laws (SB1071, AB1786-chaptered 2018) urge the California Community Colleges to award credit for prior learning, especially for veteran and military students and those who hold industry-recognized credentials. The Academic Senate supports the concept of assessing students’ prior learning for credit (adopted resolution 7.02 S16). Promising practices exist in colleges with nursing programs and those that serve veteran and military students. Yet, there is more to be done to create equitable processes for all students at every campus, ensure transferability of credit, scale assessments for broad student impact, and keep faculty driving this work at their campuses. 

As we work to curate resources and change policy, we invite you to consider how CPL could help your students save time and money and your college support the Vision for Success. There are millions of potential non-traditional students out there who could benefit from a certificate or degree. Are you ready to help them achieve their goals?