NSU joining pilot project to help nontraditional students earn degrees

NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State University is among 25 colleges and universities joining an alternative credit consortium as part of an initiative to create a more flexible pathway toward a college degree for millions of nontraditional learners, according to the American Council on Education.

The 25 institutions serving in this pilot project have agreed to accept all or most of the transfer credit sought by students who successfully complete courses that are part of a selected pool of about 100 low-cost or no-cost lower division general education online courses. These institutions also will help identify the sources, criteria and quality of the courses.

“Projects such as this one provide avenues for our students to help them to move toward graduation by incorporating our existing efforts in Prior Learning Assessment and expanding them,” said Dr. Lisa Abney, provost and vice president for academic and student affairs. “This work could provide a wonderful opportunity for students who have been in the workforce and wish to complete a degree.  American Council on Education initiatives such as this one will help the University with digital resources and course development and articulation of credit.”

The participating institutions represent a diverse group of four-year and two-year, public and private, non-profit and for-profit colleges and universities that have a strong commitment to access and attainment and serving nontraditional learners. Northwestern State is the only Louisiana-based institution taking part in the initiative.

“This project will enhance the university’s current efforts towards the development of flexible ways for students to apply alternative forms of credit towards the achievement of a university credential,” said Dr. Darlene Williams, vice president for technology, research and economic development. “Additionally, we will benefit from the opportunity to work with other institutions from around the country who are also pursuing these types of opportunities for students.”

Participating institutions have agreed to provide anonymized data to the American Council on Education regarding the amount of credit their institution accepts, as well as progress and success rates of students transferring in courses through this project. Additional college, university and system partners will be recruited in fall 2015 to join the consortium.

This initiative is made possible by a $1.89 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its initial focus will be on the more than 31 million adults who have completed some postsecondary coursework but lack a degree or credential; but many of these students represent first-generation, low-income students, so findings from this investment likely will apply to younger students from this population, as well.

“The institutions serving in this pilot project will play a valuable role in helping enhance the work we have been doing for many years in developing quality mechanisms for determining the credit worthiness of education, training and life experiences outside of a formal higher education classroom setting,” said American Council on Education President Molly Corbett Broad. “We very much appreciate this generous investment and the commitment it represents to the effort to provide a more flexible and cost-efficient way to increase the number of Americans able to gain a college degree or credential.”

As an additional part of the effort, the American Council on Education will expand its current work in the area of college credit recommendations by developing a quality framework and guidelines for issuing recommendations for digital micro-credentials, competency-based programs, and non-degree certificate programs.

“This project will yield multiple and long-lasting benefits to the participating institutions, the wider higher education community and potentially millions of nontraditional learners,” said Deborah Seymour, American Council on Education assistant vice president for education attainment and innovation. “It will help lead to the greater acceptance of alternative forms of credit in a way that ensures quality and encourages more people to complete their postsecondary education.”