Plan Would Offer College Credits for Work, Life Experience

By Briana Vannozzi

New Jersey has an untapped market of potential higher ed students — adult learners who have some college credits or partial degrees, but haven’t completed them.

“We reach out to these partial degree completers with a program that helps recognize the college level knowledge they’ve acquired in their working lives, in their volunteer lives,” said Thomas Edison State College Vice President and Provost Dr. William Seaton.

In other words, offering college credits for work and life experience. That’s been a hallmark of Thomas Edison State College over the last 40 years, but now the school’s vice president is suggesting a statewide expansion.

“Last year, we did an analysis that took prior learning assessment and we saved those students over half a million dollars in tuition if they had to take those equivalent courses,” Seaton said.

Seaton presented the idea during a meeting of the newly formed College Affordability Study Commission. He says there are roughly 850,000 partial degree holders living in New Jersey.

“On a statewide basis we could begin to expand this and it could have a significant impact on the cost of adults who are returning to school,” he said.

“That will reduce time and the expense so the degree now became more affordable as well,” said Rowan College at Gloucester County President Dr. Frederick Keating.

Thomas Edison College would act as a backroom processing center of sorts. Using a system they already have in place, called a prior learning assessment. Students present a portfolio of their work to demonstrate what they already know.

“We know how to do it and make it work smoothly for students so that every campus that wants to do this doesn’t have to figure out how to do it, how to staff it. We can do that for them but the student remains their student on their campus,” Seaton said.

“I think it’s a great idea. I think there’s great many adults that have started going into a college situation and for some reason have come out and now are working and have gained a great deal of experience. And they come to us all the time,” said Keating.

Those who’ve studied the plan say it wouldn’t cost the colleges money and would, in fact, bring them more students.

“We would then have a revenue stream that would open up that individual’s once placed into the process would become returning students and possibly the kind of individual that would increase graduation rates,” Keating said.

The commission’s chairman believes this idea has a spot in their final report due out in September of next year.