This tool can boost adult learners’ completion. What’s getting in its way?

To help guide Capella's journey in further legitimizing CPL, St. Germain partners with the Council for Adult Experiential Learning.

Colleges and universities are sitting on a gold mine of tools to help students complete college faster and with little damage to their wallets. Around eight in 10 institutions offer some form of credit for prior learning (CPL), which research from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education suggests may increase the likelihood of college completion credentials.

Capella University, a private for-profit university in Minnesota, is just one of the institutions across the nation seeing gains in college completions among its underserved adult learner population, says its president, Constance St. Germain.

“This is true across higher education: The chances of persisting and completing a degree increase astronomically among people who come in with any type of credit compared to those who don’t bring in transfer credit,” she says. “If you want to attract those kinds of learners, they don’t want to have to come in and start in Business 101 when they’ve been a senior manager.”

The average age of St. Germain’s students is 37 years old. While CPL has been around for over a decade at Capella, the percentage of newly enrolled bachelor’s degree learners receiving such credit increased between 2019 and 2022. There are also signs that it is accessible across the student body. While white learners benefiting from CPL ticked up five percentage points in that timespan, it also increased by six percentage points for its learners of color.

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What’s impeding CPL’s process?

One of the most popular forms of CPL is certification that students can earn in their working life, which they can then use to gain credit when they apply to an institution. While “stackable” short-term credential frameworks are gaining ground in the higher ed space, many institutions aren’t taking advantage of collaborating with employers to create more.

Another form of CPL offered at Capella is through a portfolio assessment, in which counselors sit down with adult learners and determine the value of their prior work experience through a more qualitative analysis. However, this version is time-consuming and labor-intensive, says St. Germain.

“It’s almost mystifying. Many people are unaware that it’s even available to them,” she says. “I think higher education as a whole is getting much better in raising the awareness of it, but I also think it’s not widely being used.”

To help guide Capella’s journey in further legitimizing CPL, St. Germain partners with the Council for Adult Experiential Learning.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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