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16 January 2008

Credit where it's Due.

Fast Accredited Degrees

From Thomas Nixon

Portfolio Credit for Work and Life Experience

http://adulted.about.com/od/fasttrackdegrees/a/porfolio.htm?nl=1

Across the vast expanse of the Internet, there are many “schools” that promise to confer upon you a prestigious degree based solely upon your life experience. Simply submit your resume and they will send you a degree by return post. It’s a scam. No accredited school will do what these places assert that they can do. Any school that makes this claim is almost without exception a diploma mill.

However, that is not to say that your life experience is meaningless. Think portfolio. If you are a native speaker of Spanish, it should and is relatively easy to prove that you possess the knowledge in and should be given credit for Spanish 101. Yes, it is possible to use a portfolio or prior learning assessment to determine if you have knowledge that translates into academic credit. Using a portfolio can be a quick, but not necessarily easy, way to show that you have college-level knowledge inside your head.

It’s important to understand that portfolios do not show time. Giving someone college credit in accounting because she has been a bookkeeper for three years is not the proper equation. Many people have done that exact same thing. Do we believe that each person that has been a bookkeeper for that amount of time acquired the exact same amount of knowledge? This, of course, is just not possible. You cannot equate a certain amount of time at a task with a certain amount of knowledge. You must be able to prove that knowledge.

The theory behind portfolios is that you have to match your knowledge base with an actual college course. In addition, you must somehow, as I’ve said, prove that you have the knowledge. Easy for some subjects, but more difficult for others. For example, if you want to show that you have artistic skill and possess the knowledge necessary to pass an intermediate course in oil painting, you could provide paintings that were at that level. However, if you want to show that you have Accounting 101 inside your head, but you have nothing to show for it (such as self-generated spreadsheets, short-term course certificates, and the like), you most likely will not be able to receive credit. As legalistic as it may seem, you must prove this knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt.

One of the better resources for finding courses related to your knowledge base is located on the Thomas Edison State College website <www.tesc.edu>. While TESC calls its portfolio system "Prior Learning Assessment," it is the same process. All that you need to do is type a particular ability into the PLA Database <www.tesc.edu/plasearch> and it shoots out various university courses. For example, if you type in "accounting" you will find that they have fifty-eight course descriptions (including Secretarial Accounting and Intermediate Accounting).

Using the “accounting” example, you could then provide work samples, conference registration, and more, to prove that you have the desired knowledge. Guess what? You’ve now proven knowledge. Even if you opt to use a different school, this is an excellent place from which to begin.

While there are many schools that allow you to use portfolios, they typically have severe restraints in the number of credits allowed. If you want to take full advantage of the portfolio process, you should choose a school like TESC, a school that has no limit on the number of units you can earn in nontraditional ways.

I have mentioned Dr. Steve Levicoff before. Levicoff earned his bachelor’s degree at TESC. Although he did not earn his entire degree through portfolio, he did amass a rather astonishing ninety-eight units. Given that the average bachelor’s degree is in the 120-unit range, it is easy to see that the portfolio process is well worth the hassle.

And, yes, it could quite possibly be a hassle. These schools are quite cognizant of the fact that there are those other “schools” out there. TESC and its kindred spirits (Excelsior College, <www.excelsior.edu>, in New York and Charter Oak State College, <www.cosc.edu>, in Connecticut) are very picky about what they will accept. Sorry, but no resumes allowed.

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