According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, college graduates earn 56 percent more than high school graduates. But in Essex County – where 38 percent of people are living below the living wage – the cost of continued education and the pathway to a degree is out of reach.
A nationally renowned program at North Shore Community College, however, is helping to change that, and Empowering Economic Opportunity’s Credit for Prior Learning program is building on their example to scale the program across Essex County. This will enable more adult learners to translate their specialized experience and skills into college credits resulting in reduced costs and time to graduate.
“This initiative will ultimately serve thousands of students in our region,” said Stratton Lloyd, ECCF’s COO and vice president for community leadership. “Not only will it make college attainable for more people, it will also result in a better prepared workforce and increased earning potential for so many.”
The Credit for Prior Learning program – and the three other projects of Empowering Economic Opportunity – were officially launched to more than 200 community, nonprofit, business and philanthropic leaders at Wiggin Hall in Peabody on Feb. 26. At the launch event, ECCF revealed the details of its $1.3 million, multi-year investment in scaling working solutions for income inequality across Essex County, where 38 percent of residents live below the living wage.
North Shore Community College, a recognized leader in Prior Learning Assessment, a method for evaluating the college-level knowledge and skills an individual has gained outside of the classroom, is leading this charge. The Northeast Consortium of Colleges and Universities (NECCUM), which includes nearly every institution for higher learning in Essex County; the North Shore Workforce Investment Board, Wellspring and Action, Inc. are partners in this systems work to create a regional PLA Consortium graduating thousands of new students. Others, including representatives from the Commonwealth, additional nonprofit organizations and employers have also joined the conversation.
These partners gathered on April 30 to talk for the first time about how to make Credit for Prior Learning more streamlined and seamless: a game-changer for students in the region looking to translate work and life experience into college credit.
“When somebody is honoring the work that you’ve already done and saying, ‘Hey, you can do this. And guess what? It’s college level experience and you can apply this towards a degree,’ it’s very motivating,” said Dr. Cristy Sugarman, director of the Center for alternative Studies at North Shore Community College, in a 2018 interview with EdTech Times about the school’s program.
Colleges and universities in Essex County are at different stages of development in their own CPL programs, so the next step is to start a baseline needs assessment in order to create a common strategy to build capacity in each of them – and move forward with a systematic, regionalized approach.
“North Shore Community College is going to take what they do really well and provide support for this new, regionalized Credit for Prior Learning program,” said Lloyd. The next step, he added, is to launch a marketing and outreach campaign so many more people can participate in the program countywide.
The ultimate goal of this program is to create a sustainable, regional CPL consortium graduating thousands of new students at an average savings of $1,600 per student.