College Credits: Building on Success

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For many IT professionals, dreams of advancement in the workplace or of finding that increasingly elusive management position can go largely unfulfilled because they lack vital credentials. Holding a technical certification may meet certain job qualifications, but for the most part it is essential to have a college degree in order to be promoted into most mid- to high-level positions.

According to Greg Rose, an IT online program coordinator at Kaplan College, “Graduates are facing job markets that are not as strong as they were just a few years ago, but many hiring sectors are also facing the same decreases.” He added, “Technology is still used to run most businesses in most sectors, and hiring and expansion for these companies will always continue.”

In this kind of environment, it is easy to see the importance of positioning oneself well in order compete for that ideal job. Converting IT certifications into college credit is one way to help propel working professionals towards college degrees and the realization of lifelong goals. This reason alone should be enough to send many back to the college ranks.

Further benefits of using certifications toward completion of a college degree include showing prospective employers seriousness about accomplishing goals and finishing long-term projects. It will also help demand respect and recognition from employers and fellow workers. Obtaining a college degree also helps round out working professionals’ general knowledge base and can bring a sense of self-fulfillment and confidence, which will affect many areas of life.

Because there is so much to gain from turning certifications into college credit, what is it that keeps so many from taking advantage of this opportunity? In the past, the main barrier has been a lack of validation of this type of learning experience by institutions of higher learning. This reality is rapidly changing in today’s educational landscape, and the main hurdle that remains is getting information out to the right people regarding these opportunities.

More and more, institutions on the forefront of technology and adult education are coming to recognize and value the learning experiences that their students bring from previous education, training and employment. Certifications, such as those offered by Microsoft and CompTIA, are one type of prior learning experience. Many information technology students bring this knowledge to college, unaware of its value toward their degree.

Today’s more mature students are savvy and know that they can usually transfer most credits from other schools they have attended. However, often they are not aware that certifications they already possess may make them eligible for credit toward the completion of a degree. Each certification affords the potential to earn credit in an equivalent course. For example, many colleges offer certificate or degree programs that prepare students to pass the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) exams. These programs are designed so that working professionals can take the certification exams over an extended period of time as part of their professional development. IT professionals can accelerate their certificate or degree if they have already passed exams that are covered in the program. With the appropriate documentation of score results, certification exams are easily converted into college credit. To complete the program, students then only need to take courses covering the remaining exams.

The A+ and Network+ certifications offered by CompTIA are equivalent to courses taught in many IT programs. For example, certain information technology programs at Kaplan College require the courses Computer Systems and LAN Concepts. Students can receive credit for these courses based on the CompTIA certifications. Conversely, students can also take these courses to prepare for the certifications.

Both the Microsoft and CompTIA certifications can also be used to fulfill open-elective credit requirements in many degree programs, giving students who have these certifications a jump-start toward the completion of a college degree.

Many of us in higher education have made a concerted effort to recognize that adult students often bring experience and skills not represented on a college transcript. To recognize and evaluate lifelong student learning experiences, some institutions have established Prior Learning Assessment centers based on the guidance of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL). Lifelong learning takes place both inside and outside of the classroom; it includes credit or non-credit courses, work experience, informal training, certifications, military training and volunteer work. Credits for prior learning can greatly reduce the time it takes to complete a college degree.

Steve Morris serves as associate director of Prior Learning Assessment at Kaplan College. He holds a master’s degree from Wharton College and has previously taught English as a second language to adult learners at several universities.


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