There are currently 37 million adults who have some college but no degree. Many of them, for one reason or another, have dropped out of college and have been working for years. But they are being left behind in an economy that increasingly demands skilled and credentialed workers. As President Obama described in his State of the Union address, growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as our country has workers to fill them. To address this, he has announced on Monday a new $8 billion Community College to Career Fund that would build partnerships between states, colleges and businesses. Luckily for the President, if he’s looking for a success story to support his case, he need look no further than the state of Indiana.
Indiana has recently voted to use Workforce Investment Act (WIA) dollars to cover prior learning assessments (PLAs). As I’ve described before, prior learning assessments can help working adults – especially those with some college and no degree – earn college credit from learning they acquired outside the classroom. All they have to do is show that their learning from prior work experience, or military and corporate training, is equivalent to college-level learning. For adults who have been working for years or even decades in a profession, it’s likely that they can prove their knowledge on exams, student portfolios, or evaluations conducted by ACE or the institution.
A 2010 CAEL study has found that students who earned PLA credits had higher graduation and persistence rates, and a faster time to bachelor degree than non-PLA students. So for adults with some college and no degree, this means that PLAs can help them get in, stay in, and finish their degree more quickly. This would help the U.S. confront its shortage of skilled workers more effectively, and efficiently.
This move is exciting for Indiana because it’s part of a broader policy initiative taking place in the states. Arkansas, Indiana, and Washington are actively working to link PLA to workforce policy. If more states begin to use WIA funds for PLAs, and have access to the Community College to Career Fund, just imagine how many more adult students will be able to earn the credentials needed to reenter and advance in the workforce.
PLAs can be a powerful workforce development strategy that brings states, community colleges, and businesses to the table. It could even answer President Obama’s initial call to turn our country’s unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work. But PLAs won’t just help adults reenter the workforce – they’ll advance in it too. And they’ll do it with a stronger skillset and a stronger degree.