The Agenda

Kevin Carey on Granting Credit for Life Experience

Kevin Carey has a new article on the rise of prior learning assessments in higher education, and why they’re so important:

[T]he higher education cost/benefit proposition used to be very different: college was a relatively inexpensive experience limited to a small fraction of the population. If you chose to skip it, you could still get a good job. Spending four years living on a college campus can be a wonderful time; why shorten it unnecessarily or avoid it altogether?

Today’s world is different. The dividing line of economic opportunity increasingly falls between those who have graduated from college and those who have not. Tuition has become terrifyingly expensive, and students and families are rightly becoming afraid of taking on ruinous debt.

All this has created a potentially huge demand for legitimate prior learning programs, and a number of organizations are beginning to vie for that market. The nonprofit Council for Adult Education and Learning (CAEL) is now spearheading a process whereby students can pay to enroll in a six-week course that helps them organize a variety of information and evidence about their prior learning into a portfolio that is then evaluated for credits that can be transferred to scores of public and private colleges. “You have learned many things in your life,” notes CAEL on their Web site. “Why not earn college credit for this learning?” For-profit Kaplan University offers a similar new service at, where the introductory video notes that participating students earn an average of twenty-nine college credits and save $10,000 in tuition. Knext can “save you time and money by turning your past learning and life experience into college credits.” The matchbook has gone mainstream.

Carey goes on to discuss the emergence of alternative credentialing arrangements, which he sees as a promising development that could significantly lower the cost of demonstrating that workers have job-relevant knowledge and skills. 


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