The debate between book smarts and street smarts is not limited to IT — professionals in many fields say getting out in the real world and honing your craft pays as many, if not more, dividends than burying your nose in books. What is unique to IT, though, is how that real-world experience can translate to educational credit, whether you seek to get another degree or go back to school after years of working.
One institution that offers credit for real-world experience is Texas State Technical College Waco, the flagship campus for the Texas State Technical College System.
Cindy Kimbrell, assistant department chair of computer networking and systems administration, said her department can award nine to 12 “life credits” to students who provide valid proof of their work experience. Kimbrell said she or the department chair will call former employers for verification.
Once the student’s work experience has been established, the department determines where the experience best applies and awards credits accordingly.
“Usually, we try to look at what they did on their job, like if they were a database administrator or a network administrator, for instance — or even if they just did hardware or cabling, we can take that because we have hardware classes. If they just did technical support over the phone, we have an introduction to networking class that we can give them credit for,” Kimbrell said. “We try to fit whatever they did with our classes, so that they won’t miss out on anything they really need.”
Texas State Technical College Waco offers associate degree programs in computer science and computer maintenance, as well as a webmaster program and network security program.
The school’s computer networking and systems administration department has about 400 students, and Kimbrell said about 10 percent to 15 percent of those students receive life credit.
This is a relatively recent phenomenon. Even though students in the department have had the life credit option for at least 14 years, Kimbrell said that in the past, she would have been surprised for just one student to do so. Many students are probably eligible to earn life credits, she added, because they are nontraditional students who aren’t fresh out of high school.
“Some of the programs have really young people right out of school. We do too, but a lot of our students are about 25 or 30 years old, and they’ve decided they need to go to school to get somewhere,” Kimbrell said. “We have so many people who come back who already have bachelor’s degrees from other places. They come back because they feel they didn’t get enough computer training, or they feel they’re not technical enough.
“We also have people who are working in the field, who do get life credits, who’ve never gotten a degree — they just sort of got thrown into it, and they worked and learned, and they need the paper to go with it.”
–Lisa Rummler, firstname.lastname@example.org