Should College Credit Be Awarded for Experience?

Credentialing informal learning and experience is the next big push in higher education, with initiatives like Open Badges, Skills.to, Degreed, or LearningJar granting students credentials for skills and knowledge gained outside of school. Even traditional colleges are being pressured to
accept credit by exam, portfolio, work experience, and other informal
education, rather than reserving credit for classroom time and course
completion. Just last month in a high-profile move, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker called for
a flexible degree program that, among other changes, allows Wisconsin
students to prove their competency in an area and then gain credit for
it.

It’s important to recognize that education is not just fact-learning
or skill-accumulation, and that education can happen (and indeed mostly
happens) outside of classrooms. But seeking to validate that informal
education with formal college credit only defeats the purpose. It
furthers the view that education isn’t legitimate until it’s been
stamped with a credential. Even a recent Huffington Post article urging
credit for experience touted the valuable prospect of being able to
“tell adult students that the knowledge they bring back to campus is
valued,” as if it wasn’t valuable before it was credited.

Merely
slapping a credential on “experience” and calling it “college credit”
does nothing but entrench the idea that certificates are surrogates for
knowledge. We ought to recognize experience as independently valuable
rather than seeking to turn it into a credential.

Rachelle Peterson

Rachelle Peterson is Policy Director at the National Association of Scholars.

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