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Take innovative approach
to helping adult learners achieve
By Joan Hope, Ph.D., Editor
Most higher education institutions operate the same
way. Colleges and universities
tell students, “We have learning
to sell you.” The student will sit
in the institution’s classes, and
the institution will certify the
learning with a degree, said Ed
Klonoski, president of Charter
Oak State College.
But adult learners who
enroll at Charter Oak already
know a lot, and they learned it
in a variety of ways, Klonoski
said. Students enroll with an
average of 70 transfer credits, and the residency
requirement at Connecticut’s public, online, degree-
completion college is only six credits.
Besides transfer credits from colleges and univer-
sities, students earn credits through testing, prior
learning assessment portfolios, corporate training,
and courses provided by noncollegiate providers.
The goal is to shorten the time and lower the cost
for a degree by integrating the learning students have
completed in their private and personal lives with
their academic learning, Klonoski said.
Making it easier for employees to earn college credit
can help their employers retain them and provide
the company with more highly skilled employees.
For example, Charter Oak has a long-standing
relationship with Aetna to offer associate degrees to
call-center employees. One reason the program was
developed was that many employees would leave once
their 90-day training was complete if they were offered
jobs that paid slightly more elsewhere. Employee
retention has increased signiﬁcantly because the
employees are motivated to stay by the opportunity
to pursue the degree. And because the degree pro-
gram focuses on call-center work, Aetna ends up
with a more highly skilled workforce, Klonoski said.
Charter Oak has partnerships to provide credit
for learning completed through a number of non-
collegiate providers, including EdX. For example,
students can take EdX courses Charter Oak faculty
have reviewed and approved for credit and have them
transcripted at Charter Oak. That arrangement has
been both a disappointment and a learning experi-
ence, Klonoski said. About 60,000 students enrolled
in the ﬁrst course Charter Oak evaluated for credit,
but only 24 students wanted credit.
One lesson from that experience has been that
many people want to learn, but earning credit isn’t
their motivation for pursuing the courses. The EdX
partnership offers a way for students in poor parts
of the world to earn a signiﬁcant number of credits
for a degree. But ofﬁcials aren’t seeing students take
advantage of it, Klonoski said.
Collaboration assists adult learners
Because many adult students transfer several
times and institutions do not evaluate noncolle-
giate learning in the same ways, Klonoski worked
to develop several initiatives with his peers to make
the process more smooth:
➢ Consortium for the Assessment of College
Equivalency. Adult-centered colleges that partici-
pate in this consortium created standards for evaluat-
ing noncollegiate instruction. The standards provide
guidelines for evaluator administrative standards, the
relationship between the evaluator and the sponsor,
learning experience oversight, and components of a
review. Members of the consortium have agreed to
accept other member institutions’ reviews so that
students aren’t starting over on having their credit
evaluated if they transfer.
➢ The Collaborative for Quality in Alternative
Learning. This group of organizations and institu-
tions seeks to create a common approach to assess-
ing noncollegiate learning, much as accreditation
validates traditional learning on campus.
Partnerships assist diverse institutions
Serving the adult student market is very different
from serving 18-year-olds, Klonoski said. Charter
Oak isn’t equipped to serve traditional-aged students,
he added. And, similarly, many institutions are not
equipped to serve adult learners.
That’s why colleges and universities should form
partnerships that enable each to concentrate on what
it does well, Klonoski said. He welcomes ofﬁcials from
colleges that need the types of expertise in place at
Charter Oak to seek partnerships around what they
and Charter Oak do well.
Email Ed Klonoski at eklonoski@charteroak.