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May 26, 2024

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Work equals credit hours for students

November 30, 2006

Due to a statewide push and some new credit offers, the UW-River Falls student body could undergo a rapid aging process in the near future.

There are approximately 1,000 universities nationwide now offering credit for prior learning, said Lee Zaborowski, interim dean of continuing education/outreach and e-learning for UW-Extension.

This proposal is the Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), which will turn work and life experience into school credit by creating a portfolio to demonstrate what non-traditional students have learned in the workforce or through volunteer work.

Another one of the offers to draw in adult and non-traditional students is an expansion of Internet classes to provide flexibility and distance education for working adults.

The Adult Student Initiative (ASI) is part of a broader growth initiative by the UW System. ASI plans to entice adult and non-traditional students to enroll in Wisconsin universities and expand the number of bachelor’s degree holders in the state.

The hope is that increasing the number of degree holders will increase Wisconsin’s per capita income.

In 2002, Wisconsin ranked 29th nationally in percentage of citizens with a four-year degree, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education study. The same study ranked the state 22nd in per capita income.

“The fear is that Wisconsin is turning into a Mississippi, where there are a high percentage of people that aren’t highly educated,” said Brad Caskey, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

That perception could deter new businesses from coming to Wisconsin, directly affecting the state’s economic growth.

Caskey and other representatives of UWRF attended a conference at UW-Stout in November to discuss the initiative.

UWRF offers a similar credit opportunity in the master’s of management program.

“We’ve only done it a handful of times,” said Claire Killian, associate professor of management and human resources. “Maybe three or four in the six years it’s been offered.”

There are some disadvantages to allowing this type of credit, Killian, who also attended the conference at UW-Stout, said.

“It’s not the same type of learning,” she said. “I do think you miss something by not having the academic piece.”

There is a similar offer in the elementary education department - an offer Denise Vanberg, a 46 year-old non-traditional student, plans to use.

“I have my own piano studio and have been teaching for the past 20 years, and I am pleased that I will have the opportunity to use this experience for credits,” Vanberg said. “I believe this work experience is not only beneficial for my education, but also for my future position as a teacher.”

Yet there are worries that Wisconsin schools could be seen as diploma mills by expanding credit offers.

“Someone who misunderstands or jumps to a rash conclusion could look at this as giving away credits,” Zabrowski said. “I think any honest person who took the time to look at it would see it as legitimate.”

Senior Justin Reinke doesn’t buy into the conception that UW schools will be seen as diploma mills.

“People should be able to get an education whether they’re 60 or 21,” he said.

There is currently no definitive plan to put a cap on the number of credits students could receive through this new initiative.

“The average adult would get six or nine credits,” Zabrowski said. “There are cases where adults could get a larger number, but that would be pretty unique.”

Traditional students seem skeptical of offering a large amount of credits through this program.

“I think they would have to put a cap on it,” senior Jessica Vetter said.

There is also fear that if any type of work experience can count as credit, the legitimacy of bachelor’s degrees would be questioned.

“That’s exactly what the concern is,” Caskey said. “That doesn’t give us a more educated populous.”

Another concern is that this agenda is being pushed too quickly.

“There is tremendous inertia to make this happen very fast,” Caskey said. “There are very few schools [in the UW System] that are able to handle this right now.”

There is slight concern that offering credit for prior learning and work experience could entice some high school students to join the workforce directly out of high school.

“That would be a pretty smart high school kid to figure that out,” Caskey said.

To ensure the effectiveness of ASI, the UW System has contracted the Council for Adult and Experimental Learning (CAEL). CAEL is a non-profit organization that has been working with educational institutions to expand adult learning programs for more than 30 years.

“The fact that the UW System has involved CAEL legitimizes this,” Zabrowski said.

Even with all the potential problems regarding this initiative, UWRF administration seems determined to follow through with it.

“This has come out of nowhere and become a major push and a major money maker,” Caskey said. “We need to be a player in this, and we have to do it in an academically sound way.”

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