By 2020, two out of every three American jobs will require some postsecondary education.1 At the current rate, the United States will have five million jobs for workers with postsecondary credentials and training with no workers to fill those jobs.1 Last week, I wrote about why this is an issue for the American economy and why there is bi-partisan support, at both the state and federal levels, for legislation encouraging colleges and universities to adopt Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) Strategies, also referred to as Credit for Prior Learning. 

Time is the biggest adversary of college completion.2 So, if students are awarded credits for the learning they do outside of the college classroom, it is more likely that they complete their coursework and earn a degree. 

Given this reality, it is crucial that organizations charged with educating and training the future workforce offer students access to postsecondary and advanced trade courses to start them on the path to a college degree. But offering students access to advanced coursework is pointless unless local colleges acknowledge an articulation agreement in which they allow students to transfer in credits for their prior learning. 

Here are three tips your youth organization can use to form articulation agreements with local colleges. 

I. Understanding the Market

Do your homework! This is a familiar concept for those amongst us working in education. Understanding the lay of the land will be extremely beneficial in navigating the contours of this process. Ask yourself the following questions to help frame your thinking and guide your efforts. 

What are other youth organizations doing?
Find out everything you can about what other organizations have done successfully to create articulation agreements with local colleges. If you're part of a larger organization, contact your national office and ask for contacts at partner centers. Identify individuals and organizations that are leading the pack in regards to creating articulation agreements and connect with them. 

Who makes the rules with regards to Prior Learning Assessments? 
Creating articulation agreements requires a serious time investment to begin with. If you start your work without a clear understanding of accrediting bodies and their role, then you're wasting your time. Having an idea of what's below the surface before diving in is always smart, but it's especially prudent in the case of accrediting bodies. There are three types of accreditors that you will encounter and understanding the difference will save you time when negotiating an articulation agreement. Here's a quick summary. 

  • Regional accreditors (non-negotiable)
  • Program-specific accreditors (non-negotiable)
  • Specific college policies (negotiable)

Regional accrediting bodies exert the greatest level of influence over a college's credit for prior learning policies. Colleges will follow the policies of a regional accrediting agency. Plain and simple. If a college doesn't comply with the rules of their regional accrediting body, they lose accreditation.  

Are there existing resources to leverage? 
Check out CAEL, they're a major advocate of PLAs and have resources to help colleges implement credit for prior learning policies and articulation agreements.

Does your local college already have PLA policies in place? 
Start with the college course catalogue and see what options they're offering for credit for prior learning. This information is typically listed towards the front of the course catalogue. And it is usually just the name of the policy and a brief description, but they will also include who you need to contact to learn more. Check to see if the following policies are already in place. If they are, then great!

  • National testing options like (CLEP/DSST)
  • Portfolio Assessments
  • Equivalents for Industry Certifications
  • Internal Challenge Exams
  • Credit Recommendation Services
  • High School MOU's?

II. Identifying Decision Makers

More often than not the first person you speak with is not the decision maker. But, they will likely know who to connect you with to continue the conversation.

Some schools even employ a PLA Coordinator to deal with these types of requests. If this is the case, then your job just gets easier! A PLA Coordinator will have a lot of information and they'll know how and where to direct you. They don't tend to be a decision maker either, but they're the ones that will connect you with the right people and get you going witih the process. Ask the following questions to identify the decision-makers.

  • Who are the Department Heads and Deans I can speak with about PLAs?
  • Who makes the final decision on PLAs? Is it Academic Affairs or Student Affairs?

The president of the college gives the final approval, but you'll want to know the answers to the above questions as your work through the process. You'll never be put in direct contact with the president, so it's important you know the key decision makers and gate keepers before you begin to maneuver through the stages.

III. Navigating Around Roadblocks 

The best way to avoid or minimize obstacles is to get a jump on them. Anticipate the types of questions accreditors and college faculty will ask. Then be prepared with the answers.

  • Does the accreditor evaluate experiential learning?
  • Do they even allow for it?
  • Is there a specific way they recognize experiential learning?
  • What are the experiential credit limits the accreditor will allow a school to accept?

In doing their due diligence, accreditors and colleges will be very interested in understanding the quality of the education and training your organization provides. Faculty members will most likely visit your center to talk to teachers and see first-hand the quality of education provided on center. 

It may seem daunting, but in fact it's a great opportunity to network and develop a rapport with college faculty and accreditors. You're mission at the evaluation stage should be to develop contacts that will champion your program and work to advance the articulation efforts within the college. Build relationships! It's the best way to overcome road blocks. 

College faculty will also review textbooks and coursework in order to compare it to the curriculum and learning schedules at their colleges. Comparing your curriculum to the courses they provide and determining how credits should transfer will take time. So don't be discouraged if this step slows the negotiations. Many youth organizations focus on competency-based learning. While colleges genearlly use credit hours. It will take time for them to work out how they want to equate the two. Again, it's why having a faculty member championing the cause can really help. 

These three tips will help you when working with colleges. But most importantly, don't get discouraged. There will be roadblocks and these agreements take some time to complete, but there are almost always workarounds. And, as colleges and youth organizations collaborate on more and more of these agreements and become more comfortable, they will take less and less time to complete. 

Recommended for You: How Youth Organizations Can Take Advantage of Credit for Prior Learning to Drive College Placement Rates

Sources: Photo Credit (1) America's Divided Recovery (2) The Council for Adult & Experiential Learning. Fueling the Race to Postsecondary Success