Why Credit for Prior Learning is Good For Students, Businesses, and Colleges

Published on February 20, 2024

According to research from ZipRecruiter, employers are “ditching degrees and embracing skills-based hiring.” As recognizable and respectable as a bachelor's or master's degree is, short-term, skills-based programs help develop the talent businesses need much faster and in a more targeted way. And the young Gen Z workers who enroll in those programs? They get to quickly (and affordably) gain critical skills that springboard them into high-demand careers. For many young workers, enrolling in these programs is like taking a whole lap around the Monopoly board before the other players even take their first turn.

But not everyone is convinced that short-term credentialing really is the job-hunter’s silver bullet. Many young people question whether opting out of a traditional four-year degree is wise in the long run—especially when it comes to preparing for jobs within the world of allied health, many of which do require degrees. Depending on the job you want to get, a bachelor’s degree, while more expensive and time-consuming, still appears to have an advantage over short-term training.

The result is that Gen Z finds themselves faced with a spectrum of choices, with purists on both ends. On the left, you have the short-term, skills-based program learners; on the right, fans of the traditional degree. In between are thousands of future workers interested in combining the immediate benefits of short-term credentialing and work experience with the long-term advantages of a four-year program.

These in-betweeners present a unique recruiting pool, not just for businesses but colleges and universities as well. If employers and educators can collaborate to give these learners a path that lets them earn while they learn, and eventually leverage that experience into a degree, then everyone wins. This path is called credit for prior learning (CPL).

What is credit for prior learning?

To start, we first need to define what we mean by CPL. CAEL and ACE offer some of the best definitions. But to summarize, credit for prior learning is when a degree-granting postsecondary institution (a.k.a. a traditional college or university) assesses and gives students credit for non-credit courses, certificates, or knowledge and experience gained via work experience. CPL is also referred to as “prior learning assessment” or “experiential learning.”

CPL is most relevant to people who have graduated from high school, entered the workforce or military, and gained solid work experience or have taken non-credit courses or gained certificates. Colleges will review and assess this prior learning and experience and offer students credit for their work, so the students don’t have to start their degree path from Square 1. Someone who has gained experience and knowledge as a professional can simply transfer that back into the postsecondary environment for credit toward a degree, thus allowing the student to jump-start their way toward a degree.

To illustrate, imagine a 24-year-old who has worked as a phlebotomist at a general practitioner’s office and completed a couple of short-term, skill-based programs—a phlebotomy technician program and a professionalism course. After a few years of this work, she decides she would like to become a registered nurse. When the student approaches a local nursing school, the school sees that she has a certificate plus great work experience. After an assessment, the college decides to give the student credit for phlebotomy, professionalism training, and prior work that can be applied toward the nursing degree, reducing the student’s class load on the way to graduation.

The student leverages experience and learning into a degree credit that will help her take the next step, the college gets a well-qualified student who is ready to pursue a degree, and a business helps a motivated and qualified individual upskill into an in-demand role they may need filled. That’s a win for everyone.

Is credit for prior learning the same thing as articulated credit?

Not exactly. Articulated credit has generally come to mean agreements between secondary and postsecondary institutions, where students get college credit for courses they take while they are still in high school. Articulated credit programs are most often housed inside of high school-based CTE programs. Today, many of them are agreements between high schools and community colleges.

Again, credit for prior learning happens after students have graduated from high school and have entered the professional / work environment. Whereas articulated credit is a credit agreement between secondary and postsecondary institutions, CPL is a credit agreement between postsecondary institutions, credentialing organizations, and even businesses or the military where an individual’s past education and work experience are assessed and transferred into progress toward a degree at a post-secondary institution.

The college’s role in the CPL model

With a growing number of students opting for short-term, skills-based programs after high school, it makes sense to allow them to leverage that learning into college credit should they want to pursue a degree.

If colleges embrace the CPL model, they will essentially find a brand new recruiting arena in addition to the high school market. Students who pursue short-term credentials and work experience after high school aren’t eliminated from one day attending college to get a bachelor’s degree. The postsecondary institution that offers students the ability to turn prior learning into real college credit gives the skeptical student a great value proposition and should make it easier for the college to fill seats.

Second, students who have completed skills-based programs are more likely to perform well in college and stick around to finish their education. Because they have already completed a certificate program and are usually holding down steady employment, they’ve already proven themselves to be motivated and disciplined workers. And, given their exposure to their degree field, they’re more likely to remain committed to the degree they’ve chosen instead of switching majors as 50-75% of undergraduates tend to do—or worse, dropping out completely as up to 33% of undergraduates do.

The Partner Solutions team at MedCerts has made it easy for colleges and universities to gain access to interested students through the CPL model. Here are the six easy steps that schools can take if they want to partner:

  1. Contact Our Partner Solutions Team - Share your institution’s goals, and let’s discuss how a credit for prior learning model could benefit your institution and students.

  2. Course Review & Alignment - Our academic experts will work closely with your team to review and align your courses with our short-term, skills-based programs, ensuring a seamless credit transfer process.

  3. Documentation & Formalization - Both parties will formalize the collaboration through mutual agreements, ensuring transparency and commitment.

  4. Promotion & Awareness - We will jointly promote our partnership, educating students about the benefits and opportunities that come with credits. This is where the recruitment happens.

  5. Ongoing Support - MedCerts ensures continuous support to address any queries or concerns. We remain dedicated to the success of our partnerships.

  6. Periodic Review - As the educational landscape evolves, so will our partnerships. Periodic reviews will ensure our collaborations remain relevant and beneficial.

To date, we’ve partnered with:

  • Excelsior University

  • Franklin University

  • Capella University

  • Strayer University

  • University of Phoenix

  • American College of Education

  • Trine University

As an example of how these institutions grant credits for MedCerts programs, the American College of Education gives credits for Allied Health Professional (18 credits), ASHP/ACPE Pharmacy Technician Professional (14 credits), Behavior Technician and the Medical Office (12 credits), and Behavior Technician Specialist (9 credits).

You can also see Excelsior University’s CPL agreement on this page. This type of transparency helps students know exactly how many credits Excelsior will give for the courses they have taken.

How does credit for prior learning benefit students?

Since the highest-paying careers in industries like healthcare and even IT require years of education, it’s easy for young talent to doubt their chances of successfully entering these higher-bar occupations. Can they afford it? Will they do well in school? Will they even like their career at the end of it?

Our short-term programs combined with CPL partnerships give them a dependable on-ramp into the higher levels of healthcare and IT.

First, our programs are an easy, low-risk entry point.

Our 50+ allied health and IT courses all lead to stable, in-demand, entry-level positions. And because the courses are affordable and take only a few months to complete, they offer students a low-risk way to test out careers they’re interested in. No more wasting four years on the wrong college degree.

Second, students use short-term programs to gain valuable experience they can leverage into more advanced degrees.

Our flexible, self-paced courses let students earn while they learn, which means that their first steps are a winning combination of education and work experience. As students gain career and learning experience, they also gain knowledge and credit they can easily apply while pursuing a degree.

Third, because allied health and IT talent is so in demand, more businesses are willing to help out.

Imagine a student completes a certification in surgical technology or AWS web services and starts working for a medium-sized healthcare or tech provider.

Then imagine that the business has many openings in things like nursing or software development. The new hire sees that there is a big need and expresses interest in pursuing those roles. Because this person already works at the business, clearly has experience, and is interested in furthering his or her education, it would be easy for the business to help sponsor the next educational step. And because the student already has learning and experience, they can likely get credit for the work that has already been done. This speeds things up for everyone.

The business’ role in the CPL model

By partnering with us and offering free or low-cost courses to employees, businesses stand to gain in several ways.

  1. Learning and development programs, which employees can use to upskill, help businesses boost their employee retention numbers. People do not stay in entry-level roles for long. Motivated workers will soon want to upskill to advance their careers. If your company doesn’t offer an easy way to upskill, they can easily move to a business that does. By offering access to further education (typically a B.S. degree), you can make it well worth their while to stay with you.

  2. Second, for the same reasons given above, such programs will help your business with its recruiting strategy. The employer that offers to help their workers grow their skills and advance their careers is highly attractive to active jobseekers.

  3. Third and finally, all this is a great way to grow your talent pipeline. The pinch of the labor shortage is still extreme. If you’re feeling that pinch, then offering short-term certificates to your employees is a great way to boost the number of job seekers seeking you out—both now and in the future.

Ready to boost your talent or student pipeline? Contact us today to start the partnership process.

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Written by
Robert Hiller
Director of Academic Partnerships

Robert joined MedCerts Partnership team in October 2023 to continue the growth of our network of academic partnerships. He leads a team helping our higher education partners improve their ROI, diversify their offerings and increase their student bodies.

As a driven sales and operations professional, he leverages 10+ years of proven success leading and developing national sales teams to deliver results. Throughout his career, he has deployed solutions that have led to complete turnarounds for industry-leading organizations. He is a cross-functional leader focused on improving processes, reporting, and service delivery to maximize sales and increase retention.

Published on February 20, 2024

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