I Don’t Like To Be The Skeptic

As a follow-up to my recent post about Walmart’s educational program for employees, let me share this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

News Analysis: Is ‘Wal-Mart U.’ a Good Bargain for Students?

Here’s what it says about the Prior Learning Assessment issue that was making me quiver:

“We feel very strongly that any university academic credit that’s given for training needs to be training or experience at the university level,” Ms. Aldridge said. “And we have some very set standards in that regard. And I’m not certain that we would have been able to offer a significant amount of university credit for some of the on-the-job training that was provided there.”

Awarding credit for college-level learning gained outside the classroom is a long-standing practice, one embraced by about 60 percent of higher-education institutions, according to the most recent survey by the Council for Adult And Experiential Learning. A student might translate any number of experiences into credit: job training, military service, hobbies, volunteer service, travel, civic activities.

Pamela J. Tate, president and chief executive of the council, said what’s important isn’t the percentage of credits students get from prior learning—a number that can vary widely. What’s important, she said, is that students can demonstrate knowledge. Workers might know how they keep the books at a company, she explained. But that doesn’t automatically mean they’ve learned the material of a college accounting course.

Karan Powell, senior vice president and academic dean at American Public University system, said credit evaluation at her institution “is a serious, rigorous, and conservative process.” But will the credits transfer? “Every college or university establishes its own transfer-credit policies as they apply to experiential learning as well as credit from other institutions,” she said in an e-mail. “Therefore, it would depend on the school to which a Wal-Mart employee wanted to transfer.”

Whether or not PLA credits will transfer is not specific to this situation; we always inform our students that transfer policies are set by incoming institutions in accordance with their own policies and accreditation requirements, and sometimes PLA credits will and sometimes they won’t transfer.

Really cool image from "SkepticView.com"

My concern is still about the details of the “serious, rigorous, and conservative process” — it should be, and I’d like to believe that it is.  Providing details might help satisfy skeptics like me.

The Walmart website says this:

Through a partnership with American Public University (APU), associates will be eligible for college credit for their formal training and job experience at Walmart.

The APU website says this:

Associates will be awarded job learning credit in current degree offerings in programs such as Management, Transportation and Logistics, and Security Management. APU plans to offer new concentrations in retail management and other related disciplines.

And their “Life Experience” website says this:

APUS is pleased to offer our students a variety of options when it comes to granting college credit for equivalent life education, experience and/or learning.

The rest of the website talks about credit for learning, and I guess the Walmart program would be “sponsored experiential learning. ” So I guess I feel a bit better.

I guess.

The irony here is that PLA folks like me have been fighting skeptics for years about the validity of assessing prior learning. And now, I find myself the skeptic, which is not a comfortable chair to be seated in.


4 thoughts on “I Don’t Like To Be The Skeptic

  1. Hi Melanie,
    I wouldn’t be uncomfortable about your skepticism–if PLA professionals don’t concern ourselves with the quality of all programs, especially ones that are highly publicized, then we could lose all credibility among other academics.

    What I find unusual in this situation is the large number of students who are going to engage in the same corporate training and use that to request the same credits at the same university, even though there’s no guarantee that every student produces the same learning outcomes. I consider PLA to be a very individualize process, and this sounds like it could be verging on “cookie cutter credit.”

    I would hope (and expect) that APU will offset this by completing an additional evaluation of student learning before granting the credits. But given Walmart’s history of using its size and buying power to get its way, I think there’s at least room for concern.

    ps: Sorry for the late response, I’m catching up on my blogs. 🙂

    • Ross-
      You make such a good point about PLA being individualized! I totally agree with your idea about this being “cookie cutter credit” — it’s so anti-PLA, isn’t it?
      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Pingback: That’s Messed Up (#2) « PrattleNog

  3. Pingback: Credit for Experience or Learning? Learning, Please! « PrattleNog

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