NSCC’s Credit for Prior Learning Addresses Access, Affordability and Degree Completion

North Shore Community College knows that working with students to grant them academic credit for prior learning (CPL) makes good sense and positively impacts access to education, affordability and ultimately student success.

For over 40 years, NSCC has offered students multiple pathways to demonstrate their mastery of college level competencies and learning. In the last three years, NSCC has annually averaged over 430 students who have leveraged CPL options for eight college level credits, saving over $1,600 a student on average as well as time to complete their degree.  In fact, 16.9% of our graduates last year had some form of credit for prior learning transcribed. Our results correlate with the data from a national study conducted by CAEL, Refueling the Race to Postsecondary Education, where students with CPL were 2.5 times more likely to graduate with a postsecondary degree than their non- CPL counterparts.

Because NSCC is an NCTA certified testing center, our local numbers are higher. This is due to additional CLEP and DSST testing for students from external entities such as Hanscom AFB. 

Student participation in CPL at NSCC is approximately 68% higher than the average number of CPL students across Massachusetts’ other 14 community colleges. NSCC is the only institution in Massachusetts to make CPL options transparent to students throughout their academic journey by listing CPL options alongside all recommended courses on all of the Guided Pathway sheets, which students and advisors use to map students’ academic course requirements to complete their desired certificate or degree. To date, the College has equated 256 direct prior learning-to-NSCC course matches through the Center for Alternative Studies and Educational Testing. All information is readily available on our website at https://www.northshore.edu/cas/.

NSCC’s in-house expertise in CPL resulted in leadership in the DHE’s Performance Incentive Fund (PIF) grant development of a statewide CPL collaboration, which resulted in a statewide PLA (prior learning assessment) Council with representatives from each community college, increased professional development opportunities including faculty convening’s, increased statewide transparency and consistency around CPL resulting in better service to our MA Community College students, and the enhancement of the first statewide CPL website: https://myexperiencecounts.mass.edu/home .

This public facing website includes a student self-assessment for CPL suitability, which when completed connects the student to a CPL Specialist at their chosen institution; a statewide CPL crosswalk, wherein a student can select their area of study and explore CPL offerings across Massachusetts Community Colleges; a credential bank showing which credentials, certifications, and licenses are accepted across the Colleges; videos featuring students’ experiences with CPL and recommendations on how to start the prior learning assessment (PLA) process; an e-portfolio repository and online faculty evaluation tools; staff and faculty tutorials; and much more.

The website functions as an outreach strategy that connects students who may potentially earn CPL credits to the target institution of their choice. Through an automated email workflow, a CPL Specialist at the student’s chosen institution is alerted to the student’s interest and given access to information about the student’s CPL prospects. The website also acts as an intake tool, a CPL CRM, and a repository for documentation/evidence of student learning.

NSCC was also recently awarded a three-year grant from the Essex County Community Foundation to develop a North Shore CPL model with the goals of saving participating students an average of $1,600 per annum, decreasing the time to graduate by 15%, increasing overall graduation goals, and increasing access to CPL for college completion resulting in a better prepared workforce with increased earning potential for thousands of participants. The long-range vision for this project is to scale this solution to all community colleges across the state and to establish a replicable national model.

NSCC’s Center for Alternative Studies and Educational Testing (CAS) houses a well-developed variety of best-practice Credit for Prior Learning programs based on CAEL’s principles. These include a wide range of Prior Learning Assessments, including though not limited to: professional learning experiences; non-credit online certifications such as edX and Google; knowledge of languages; internships; volunteer work; education and training from non-accredited institutions such as Year Up; state and nationally recognized credentials; military educational experiences; portfolio review; nationally normed examinations such as CLEP and DSST; and local assessments including challenge exams. The majority of students utilizing CAS services can be classified as non-traditional or adult (25+ years) with some form of professional experience, which currently represents approximately 40% of NSCC’s total student body.

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