Editor’s note: Vermont By Degrees is a series of weekly columns written by representatives of colleges and universities from around the state about the challenges facing higher education at this time.
The Community College of Vermont is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. For five decades, we have offered access to a high-quality education in the communities where Vermonters work and live. A particular focus of this work has been on helping adult students gain the skills and credentials they need to get ahead in their careers.
Since CCV’s earliest days, the “Credit for What You Know” program, called Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), has given Vermonters a chance to save time and money along the way to credentials that can make a big difference over the course of their lives.
Patrick Clow barely graduated from high school. He served in the Air Force, tried college for one semester, and then spent 20 years working for a small Vermont business. All along, he dreamed of becoming a teacher. One day, a friend told him about CCV’s Assessment of Prior Learning (APL) class, where students spend a semester creating a portfolio that describes and documents their prior learning. He took the course and was able to earn 102 college credits for his knowledge in subjects as diverse as computer science, theater and business. “Suddenly, I had this set of credits that pushed me a long way down the path toward a teaching degree,” he said on a public access TV program. “I thought it would take me seven or eight years before, and now it will take less than half of that.”
CCV understands college-level learning can happen in multiple ways and in a variety of settings. Prior Learning Assessment offers an opportunity for students to earn college credit for that learning, which students may have gained at work, in the military or through community service. Students can demonstrate their expertise through two types of portfolio classes, Assessment of Prior Learning and Focused Portfolio Development, as well as course challenges or credit by exam. These options, and the credit they lead to, ultimately mean that busy working adults don’t have to spend time or money on classes in which they already know the material.
This year, in honor of CCV’s 50th anniversary milestone, the J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation generously donated $50,000 for scholarships for Prior Learning Assessment portfolio courses. The McClure Foundation, a supporting organization of the Vermont Community Foundation, has been a longtime supporter of CCV and our mission. With this acknowledgement of our 50 years, and of the impact PLA has on the lives of so many Vermonters, students who enroll in PLA classes throughout 2020 will now receive a significant financial boost.
Since the 1970s, PLA has played a role in ensuring CCV evolves alongside the needs of our students. CCV, and the Vermont State Colleges, have been national leaders in the prior learning assessment field. We were early to appreciate that adult students have knowledge that is deep and broad, and are proud to provide a way for Vermonters to earn valuable credentials for this knowledge and expertise.
For Patrick Clow, as for so many other working adults looking to change careers, or grow within their career, Prior Learning Assessment at CCV was a transformative experience. After his APL class, Patrick went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at Northern Vermont University and a master’s degree at UVM. He is now teaching educational technology at Georgia Elementary and Middle School. “I have never been happier in my work life,” he said. “When people ask me ‘how did you get there?’ I always talk about APL, because it was a fantastic jumpstart.”
Joyce Judy is Community College of Vermont president.
Vermont By Degrees is a series of weekly columns written by representatives of colleges and universities from around the state about the challenges facing higher education at this time.