Finding alternate ways to earn credit for nontraditional students

The Offices of Educational Outreach and Testing Services came together recently to hold an interactive workshop aimed to illuminate the lesser known nontraditional student population who make up 40 percent of  the university’s population and the ways they can earn college credit.

Nontraditional students are those that satisfy one or more of the following characteristics: “delayed enrollment into postsecondary education, attended part-time, financially independent, worked full-time while enrolled, had dependents other than a spouse, was a single parent or did not obtain a standard high school diploma,” according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Because of the many criteria, nontraditional students are hard to define.

Jeff Fox, School-Based Scholars/Portfolio coordinator said that a nontraditional student is simply “a student that’s not your traditional freshman.”

Vicki Berling, executive director of Educational Outreach at NKU, said, “Normally, what we think of is age.”

Berling added that NKU itself is a highly nontraditional university. “We’ve always been nontraditional because we started as a community college. We started in that tradition and have continued.”

The workshop was held on April 2 and April 9 to spread awareness among academic advisers of the options available to nontraditional students wanting to earn college credit at NKU.

The workshop, titled “Helping Nontraditional Students Discover Alternate Credit Pathways,” attracted a crowd of about 15 people at both sessions. Department chairs, academic advisers and faculty from several programs attended.

The workshop was geared mostly toward academic advisers, because, as Amy Danzo, assistant director of Testing Services, said, “It’s the advisers that need to be the ones to match the student with options.”

“We’re trying to help advisers give students options to think out of the box,” Fox added.

NKU currently offers three different prior learning assessment paths: credit by exam, portfolio and credit through the American Council on Education, or ACE. Overall, a student can earn 90 credit hours total through these programs, which are available for nontraditional students seeking an undergraduate degree from NKU.

The Credit by Examination (CBE) program is exactly what it sounds like. As Danzo said, “The name says it all: you get credit for an exam if you pass it.”

Other alternate forms of college credit at NKU include the portfolio option and ACE program. Portfolio is a way nontraditional students can earn credit from their work experience. It is a long and labor-intensive process, said Jeff Fox.

Students compile what learning they have from work experience and Fox searches for a course whose learning outcomes match the learning of the student. If a course is found, the student then works with Fox to compile a portfolio that proves they have fulfilled the learning outcomes of the desired course. After the portfolio is finished, a faculty expert from the appropriate department reviews it and decides whether or not to award the student credit for the course.

“The portfolio is a lot of work. You have to really document that you have the knowledge,” said Sallie Parker-Lotz, adviser in the College of Health Professions.

Advanced standing exams is the newest program of the Office of Educational Outreach. ASE is in the preliminary stages; for the next two months the Office will be meeting with department chairs from the different academic departments to discuss the program. According to Danzo and Fox, the advanced standing exams are already available in the nursing program at NKU, but Educational Outreach would like to see this program expand.

While all of the prior learning assessment options are available to undergraduate students, they do not fit everyone.

“In all of these cases it’s more than showing up and giving us a resume. You still have work involved in preparation and documentation of your learning…but they can be great options,” said Berling. Students must be able to manage their time well, have self-motivation and be a good independent learner.

Students pursuing the portfolio option must be able to follow through the process, which can easily take up to several weeks or even months.

As Danzo said, “It’s really all about discussing your options with your advisers.”

Sallie Parker-Lotz said, “I think students should know about it in high school…I think it’s a wonderful option.”

Fox and Danzo both hope this workshop will become an annual event.

Fox said, “Our main goal was to be able to put this idea into the advisers and faculties’ heads as options for students.”