LYNN — North Shore Community College is providing current and prospective students an opportunity to earn college credit for life experience through a collaborative initiative. 

Current students, people considering going back to college or those changing careers are able to earn credit for work experience in lieu of taking a traditional course through a new initiative led by the school.

“Given the impact of the coronavirus, the timing may be good for this initiative given the number of folks who are out of work, who have realized that they need to change jobs to make more money, or find themselves with the time to build on their education foundation,” said NSCC Interim President Nate Bryant. 

The initiative, the Northeast Regional Prior Learning Assessment Consortium (NERPLAC), is a partnership between Essex and Middlesex County community colleges, state colleges and universities, private colleges, workforce boards, employers and community-based organizations. 

It promotes and increases the use of Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) as a strategy to boost college completion, strengthen professional skills for higher paying jobs in regional growth industries, and engender engagement in lifelong learning. 

If individuals demonstrate through that assessment that they already know the information that would otherwise be taught in a college course, they are awarded the credit without having to take the entire course. 

NSCC administrators say getting that leg up can make a college degree seem less daunting. 

“If people think a college degree is out of their reach and they see an opportunity like this, it can be very motivating,” said Dr. Cristy Sugarman, executive director of the Center for Alternative Studies. “You’re not starting at the very beginning and you’re not duplicating things you already know.” 

The initiative also provides an opportunity to improve college accessibility and affordability for current or prospective students, Sugarman said.

Citing a nationwide study from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, Sugarman said people who earn credit through a prior learning initiative are 2.5 times more likely to complete their college degree. Statistics compiled at the local level mirror that study, she said. 

Sugarman said the initiative is in its third year, but this is the first year that colleges are actively reaching out to local employers with the aim of engaging them in the credit for the prior-learning program. 

Local employers are a “perfect” fit for that type of academic initiative, Sugarman said, as their employees have already benefited from on-the-job training. 

Although still relatively new and growing, the program has proved to be popular so far, particularly with people who work in healthcare and computer science fields, Sugarman said.  

Sugarman noted that there has been uptick in individuals who have inquired about the initiative this year, which she said may be due to the pandemic and the resulting high unemployment levels.  

“I would encourage people to come and take a look at credit for prior learning and see if it is something that might help them or something that they can do to help themselves if they’re transitioning (or) upskilling,” said Sugarman. “It is a proven academic success strategy, and it is out there for people to take advantage of.” 

The consortium is funded by the Essex County Community Foundation and is being led by North Shore Community College in collaboration with participating institutions of higher learning including Endicott College, Gordon College, Middlesex Community College, Northern Essex Community College, Salem State University and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.  

For more information about this program or NERPLAC, contact Heather Mayer at

--Gayla Crawley, The Daily Item

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