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.

How to Gain College Credit for Work and Other Life Experience

An interview with Ann Sukalac

Ann is Linfield  College Division of Continuing Education’s instructor of the online course where adults “challenge” courses in their degree program, called Writing the Portfolio. Students write up their life experience and knowledge gained on the job and through volunteer experience, and compare that knowledge with what is taught in Linfield courses to earn credits for courses that match with their knowledge.

female student in libraryWhat is the process students go through to receive college credit for work and life experience at Linfield DCE?

Any student who wants to investigate Prior Learning Assessment should first meet with an academic advisor.  It’s important to get some feedback on when to put this into their plan for graduation and the advisor can help with timing, as well as make sure the student understands the process.

The next step is to take the online Writing the Portfolio class, which we offer every fall semester.  The student will gain three elective credits for this class, as well as go through a process of developing a “mini-portfolio” to submit for credit.  As they refine their plan for course challenges, the student will be reviewing his or her whole adult life, to see how it matches up with academic offerings. Many students have told me they have found the process to be personally rewarding, as they realize just how much they have accomplished in life!

What “counts” as life experience?

We are really looking more for “learning experience” than life experience.  So just because you’ve held a particular job isn’t enough—you have to show how what you’ve learned on that job matches up with something that you would have learned in a classroom.  The student will take the syllabus for a particular class and show how they have accomplished the same learning objectives.  It definitely has to be equivalent learning, but it’s learning that was achieved a different way.

What are some examples of student’s life experience that has earned them college credit?

The first place most students look is their careers.  For example, last year one of my students was a Human Resource Manager, and who had worked her way up in that field over a number of years.  She was able to successfully challenge several classes from our Human Resource Management curriculum.  This year one student with years in the insurance industry did an outstanding portfolio to challenge the Insurance and Risk class.

That same student with all the professional insurance experience successfully challenged several P.E. classes, too.  She is quite accomplished in fitness, and had documented work in several areas with a personal trainer.

Career, hobbies, volunteer work, community involvement should all be explored for possible credit.

Are there any other ways students can gain college credit other than through taking courses?

Several business classes can be challenged by CLEP exams.  CLEP stands for College Level Exam Program, and is a national program of the College Board. Linfield also recognizes the DANTES exams that are comparable to the CLEP exams we use.  DANTES is for military personnel and stands for Defense Activity for Nontraditional Educational Support.

Many students have also participated in courses and workshops through their employer or through the military.  If those classes have been accredited by the American Council on Education (ACE), we may be able to use them as transfer credit—just as we would transfer credit from a regionally accredited college or university. You can view the National Guide to College Credit for Workforce Training to see the college credit recommendations.

For training completed in the military that has been evaluated for college credit, students may  obtain a copy of their SMART or AARTS transcript from the American Council on Education.

So called “life experience degrees” came under fire at one point because unaccredited schools were granting entire degrees based on life experience with no additional coursework needed. How does Linfield’s college credit for life experience program differ?

People do need to fully investigate any institution which says it offers credit for life experience.  New students often share with me their fears that prior learning assessment might imply that their knowledge was superficial or not up-to-date.  That will not happen at Linfield!  Our faculty is determined that if a diploma says “Linfield College” on it, the degree will have been earned through learning that meets rigorous academic standards.  Students who use Prior Learning Assessment can’t just say they learned something; they also have to document that learning. And, the portfolio is reviewed by the same faculty who teach those classes in the classroom.

What is the range of credits students usually fulfill through work and life experience? Is there a maximum number of credits a student can earn through past experience?

The majority of students who pursue this opportunity these days are earning 8 -12 credits.   The maximum possible is 31 semester credits, which is equivalent to one year of college credits.

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

I would encourage them to “mine” their whole life experience, both personal and professional.  If they have been living an active life, engaged in their work and community, they have no doubt got what it takes to pursue college credit for it. The other critical step is to talk with an academic advisor who can look at the whole picture—what the student still needs to study to complete their degree requirements.  The earlier in your academic career you make a plan for this, the better.


An interview with Ann Sukalac