CCV receives $50,000 to credit prior learning

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BENNINGTON — The Community College of Vermont has received $50,000 to help students seeking college credit for life experience.

The funding, provided by the J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation in honor of CCV's upcoming 50th anniversary, will provide scholarships for Prior Learning Assessment classes.

These classes offer students the opportunity to earn college credit for knowledge gained in the workplace, in the military, through volunteerism, or in other settings outside of the traditional college classroom, according to a media release.

The funding applies to all 12 CCV locations, including its Bennington site at 324 Main St.

The scholarships will cover approximately 50 percent of costs for PLA courses, and students will be eligible for a second award of equal value if they enroll in a CCV class by fall 2021, said Melissa DeBlois, director of the prior learning assessment office at CCV.

This $50,000 will support 50 students, she said.

"We are targeting students who don't have tuition benefits already through their employer, which a fair number of students do, so I think it will reach many of the students who have [a] need," DeBlois said.

The scholarship is intended for adult students with two to five or more years of work or military experience. Students must attend an online webinar to be eligible for the scholarship.

The sessions are held twice monthly via Zoom. For the schedule, and to RSVP, visit admissions.ccv.edu/portal/pla_webinar.

"The idea behind the scholarship is to encourage those students who successfully complete [prior learning assessment classes] to keep going," DeBlois said.

A lot of CCV students pause after taking these classes, rather than immediately moving on to others, she said.

"Those who keep going are very, very successful, and can complete their degrees in a very short period of time," she said. "The scholarship is really encouraging them to complete and meet those goals. It's really encouraging them to keep going. So that they don't lose their momentum."

CCV offers two prior learning assessment courses: the three-credit, semester-long Assessment of Prior Learning (APL) class, and the Focused Portfolio Development class, a one-credit offering in which students request credits in a focused curricular area.

The APL class has no limitations on the number of credits students can request or the curricular areas they can request them in. DeBlois said the average credit award for students in that class is 30 credits, halfway to an associate's degree.

Focused Portfolio Development is a "mini-version" of that same course, DeBlois said. Students can request up to 16 credits, which must be in the same curricular area; the average award is 12 credits. Students can take one or the other class.

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This $50,000 will provide larger scholarships than have been offered — right now, a portfolio assessment fee scholarship of $300 and $200, respectively, is available for both APL and Focused Portfolio Development classes.

Even without the new scholarship funding, students save over $6,000 on average when they take the APL course, and on average, just under $3,000 with the Focused Portfolio Development class, taking into account the price of the classes, DeBlois said.

"An average course at CCV costs just under $900, so it represents a significant cost savings," she said.

Students in these classes also save time — an average of about 500 hours for students in the portfolio class and 1,000 hours for APL students, DeBlois said.

The credits students receive through prior learning are all college-level, undergraduate credits. It's up to the receiving institutions to accept them, but colleges all over the country do so, including CCV, DeBlois said.

Prior learning assessment classes are very popular at CCV, she said. The target audience is usually adults from 25 to 64, she said.

"For those students, both and time and money are an issue," she said.

Time is often the biggest challenge, so getting credits for experience students already have saves years they would otherwise spend taking one or two classes a semester, DeBlois said.

"It really represents a way for adults to access education," as most of them are working full-time jobs, DeBlois said.

Around 10 percent of CCV graduates have participated in some form of prior learning assessment, she said.

"I think that it has the potential to grow," DeBlois said of CCV's prior learning assessment classes. "We are really trying to increase the visibility of this program."

According to a national study by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, adult students who receive credits for prior learning are more likely to complete associate and bachelor's degrees, according to the release.

CCV and Vermont State Colleges System students who earn credits through portfolio classes, exams, or course challenges are two to three times more likely to complete a degree than their peer group taking traditional classroom courses for all requirements, according to the release.

"It's really a retention tool and a way to kind of help adults move that end goal much closer, so it's doable," DeBlois said.

Nearly 8,000 Vermonters have participated in the APL portfolio process since it was established in 1975, according to the release.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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