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Prior Learning Assessment: Interviews with Linfield Students

Last week we wrote an article about how to gain college credit for work and life’s learning experiences. Below are three interviews with Linfield College Adult Degree Program students about how they were able to gain college credit for prior learning.

Debbie Watkins
Credits Achieved for Life Experience: 12 semester credits

What type of experience did you use to earn credit towards your bachelor’s degree?

I’ve been in the workforce for over 20 years and have grown and gained new skills in each position I have held.  I started by working a front desk position and increased my knowledge and experience, which allowed me to take on additional responsibilities.  I have worked at four main organizations throughout my career, each with a slightly different focus or customer base.  The knowledge and skills gained at one position helped me obtain new positions with greater experience and opportunities to learn along the way.

I am currently a Human Resources Supervisor servicing an organization with over 1,800 employees.  I qualified for the position because of my past work experience, but I also realized I need to obtain my bachelor’s degree to open additional doors in the future.  I will never discount the educational experience each and every position has provided for me and the benefit of those experiences became even more apparent as I compiled my portfolio of prior learning.  I was successful in challenging three different 400-level courses based on past experience.  Those courses include Human Resource Management (BUSN 405), Organizational Behavior (BUSN 407), and Collective Bargaining (BUSN 409), for a total of 12 semester credits.  The value I can directly attribute to my prior learning experience is over $5,000 (based on current online credit prices) in addition to the time it saved me in courses I did not have to take.  All three of these courses relate directly to my current position.

Explain what the process was like of putting together a portfolio of prior learning? What were the steps involved? What did the “finished product” look like?

The best part about compiling a portfolio of prior learning is the help you get from your Linfield instructor.  It is definitely worth taking Writing the Portfolio (IDST 250), which online courses helps you pull all of the pieces together.  So, in addition to getting credit for the Portfolio class, the instructor becomes your mentor throughout the entire portfolio process.  The course is broken down into manageable steps with deadlines.  You get feedback on each piece, which builds on and transitions into the next pieces of the portfolio.  In the end, you have assembled a booklet for one course challenge that is submitted to Linfield for faculty member to evaluate and provide feedback.  This becomes the template you can then use to submit challenges for other courses.

Is there advice you would give someone considering using his or her work experience for college credit?

Think big and do not discount any of your work experience and what you may already know based on living life and working.  As a receptionist, you may increase your customer service skills and learn about conflict resolution and personality profiles.  As a construction worker, you may learn about running a business, debt collections, marketing plans and public relations.  The sky is the limit.  Once you start thinking and reflecting back over your work history, it becomes easier to look at the courses offered and make connections you may have ignored previously.  Linfield offers a wonderful opportunity for people to be recognized for the work they have already done and the knowledge already gained through experiential learning.

Greta Black
Credits Achieved for Life Experience: 11 semester credits, 3 others currently under review

What type of experience did you use to earn credit towards your bachelor’s degree?

I worked as an insurance adjuster for 17 years between 1986 and 2003.  I was a full time college student for one year, and then entered the work force in the insurance industry.  My employer felt I had management potential, and encouraged me to pursue my bachelor’s degree, so I continued to take evening college courses for several years while working full time.  In 1992, I was accepted in the Adult Degree Program at Linfield, but then discovered I was pregnant with my first child and put my education on the back burner for 16 years.  I continued to work as a part time insurance adjuster while raising my three kids, but decided to be a full time mom in 2003.

Explain what the process was like of putting together a portfolio of prior learning. What were the steps involved? What did the “finished product” look like?

The Writing the Portfolio class is presented in a straightforward and logical manner that breaks the process of actually writing the portfolio down into manageable steps.  You start by writing down your learning experiences since high school and then organize them into areas that could possibly translate into specific college courses offered at Linfield.  For example, based on my work experience in the insurance industry, I successfully challenged a business class called Insurance and Risk, BUSN 456.  I also challenged three fitness classes based on the numerous cardio, strength and conditioning classes I have taken over the years, and was awarded credits for those as well.

Next, you develop an educational plan based on what you’ve already completed and what you still need to graduate.  Once you’ve chosen the class or classes you want to challenge, you write a narrative demonstrating how your experiences represent mastery of the class subject.  It’s great if you have supporting documents like letters, certificates, job descriptions, examples of your work, and even photographs proving your participation in specific activities.  As I learned, there is no such thing as too much documentation!  The most rewarding part of the class is writing your autobiography, which is a summary of your significant learning experiences since high school.

My finished portfolio was an amazing 117 pages long, including all my documentation.  It was very rewarding to complete, and surprisingly meaningful to have something tangible to show for all I’ve done over the years.

Is there any advice you would give someone considering using their work experience for college credit?

Don’t limit yourself to challenging only those courses that seem to relate directly to your line of work.  For example, I felt confident challenging a class called Interpersonal Communication after I read the description of the class and the syllabus.  I realized that I had learned a lot about communication over the years as an adjuster resolving insurance claims such as conflict resolution, verbal and non-verbal conversation skills, and active listening and feedback.

Also, after obtaining the class syllabus from Linfield on a course you wish to challenge and seeing the list of course textbooks, I was able to locate a few websites that sold older, used textbooks at very low prices and ordered them online.  Those textbooks were invaluable to me when writing up my narratives.

Michelle Lagos
Credits Achieved for Life Experience: 23 semester credits

What type of experience did you use to earn credit towards your bachelor’s degree?

I’ve been in business as a makeup, hair, and photo stylist artist for the last 19 years.  Five of those years I owned and managed a large crew of 13 employees.  Working in a social environment has been my life’s work.  In my private arena I also donate time to SMYRC (Sexual Minority Youth Center), Chair a Committee on the Portland Area Business Association, volunteer at my daughter’s school, and am on the Trans-Active Advisory Board.  My current field of formal study relates to every facet of my life.

Explain what the process was like of putting together a portfolio of prior learning. What were the steps involved? What did the “finished product” look like?

I first went back and studied my resume, life experience charts, and business files.  After reviewing my life experience, I had a meeting with my advisor, gathered some letters of recommendation, gathered photos and periodicals from different salon articles, and ordered the course syllabi.  Most of the syllabi for the classes I chose were available online, others were sent to me via email. When they were gathered, I thoroughly challenged each section of the syllabi and had them bound at FedEX Office before sending them off to the teaching faculty to be reviewed.

Is there any advice you would give someone considering using their work experience for college credit?

You need to be able to prove that you lived and mastered the classes you want to challenge.  That means you need to provide not only the challenge but evidence.  Examples include licenses, photos, periodicals, letter of recommendation, etc.