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November 23, 2011 3:14 PM Credit for Life

By Daniel Luzer

From Reuters comes news about granting college credits for life experience. This comes as part of the Obama administration’s drive to increase the number of Americans with a college degree, but this is surely the wrong way to do it.

According to the article by Chad Terhune:

The number of colleges that award credit for life experience has increased 35 percent since 2004 to more than 2,000 schools last year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
These life credits cover a wide range of work experience, corporate training, military service, volunteer activities and even travel. Many programs require students to compile lengthy portfolios, including essays on what they learned, letters from bosses and co-workers and other supporting documentation that professors then evaluate.

What’s particularly odd about this is that, while theoretically one could learn the equivalent of a bachelor’s through life, realistically the only people who seem to hold such credits are, well, those who didn’t go to college. None of the world’s best colleges grant academic credits for such ambiguous things. And reputation matters here, even if reputation doesn’t mean much. Indeed it’s the signaling component that may be the most important part of attending college.

While it’s true that “more than 2,000 schools” award credit for life experience, what would make more sense would be to simply award the credit for actual knowledge. There’s no need for “portfolios.”

The point of this “send more people to college” initiative is, after all, to prepare them for the world’s high-skill jobs. But if students already have the life experience that is the equivalent of college, what’s the point of the official credit from the institution? Can’t we just skip that part?

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer