College credit for Wal-Mart work: Should doing a job count toward degrees?
Wal-Mart and other companies are giving their employees college credit for skills they've learned on the job. The extra credit is the boost many workers need to finish stalled degrees.
Hundreds of thousands of Wal-Mart employees now have an extra reason to consider pursuing a college degree. Through a partnership with the online American Public University (APU), they can qualify for free college credits that are awarded for the knowledge and skills they've gained in certain job categories. By 2012, 70 percent of the giant company's US staff will be in jobs that are eligible for free credits.Skip to next paragraph
The partnership is emblematic of changes in the college landscape. Many adults are going back to school to upgrade their career prospects – a move that could be essential for today's difficult job market. In addition, President Obama has said that by 2020, the United States should lead the world in the rate of college degrees earned.
It is against this backdrop that demand is growing for more credits for learning accomplished outside the classroom – in the military, the workplace, or even volunteer activities.
Rather than simply requiring traditional "seat time,... everyone is looking [for how to] get more people through higher-ed programs faster and in a more flexible way," says Richard Kazis, senior vice president of Jobs for the Future, a research and policy organization in Boston.
But is working in a job, say, as a cashier really worthy of college credit?
If a student can show how the experience translates into knowledge and skills that others might learn in a college class, then yes, higher-education experts say.
"It's not what you did, but what you know," says Pamela Tate, president of the Council for Adult & Experiential Learning (CAEL) in Chicago, which helps colleges assess the educational value of on-the-job and other life experiences.
About 8 in 10 colleges offer some credit for "prior learning" in the military or as demonstrated in exams in a variety of fields, a CAEL survey found. Sixty-six percent review portfolios that students put together to show other types of college-level learning, according to the survey.
Different colleges set different standards for such credits, however, so to what extent Wal-Mart employees will be able to transfer them to other institutions is an open question.
It depends on how the Wal-Mart program is implemented, but, Ms. Poley says, "I don't think there's going to be a high respect, nor, if you move to another institution, [a high level of] acceptance of credit, for at least some of the [job categories] they're talking about."