Prior Learning Assessment at Thomas Edison State College

Local Control vs. Economies of
Scale: On Partnering, Consortia, and
CAEL International Conference
November 8, 2013
Marc Singer
Center for the Assessment of Learning
Thomas Edison State College
The Problem
• How to maintain local control and uniqueness when
increased need for accountability, tightened
funding, technological change, and the College
Completion agenda put the pressure on to
• Local Control vs. Economies of Scale
• Colleges sought to shape their students’
worldview—Yale created the “Yale Man”
• Principal characteristics of a Yale man: "selfconfidence and a worldliness that is neither
bookish nor anti-intellectual."--William Buckley
a direct and confident
“Yale” set in a modified
version of the Yale typeface
• Producing the “Yale Man” or the “Wellesley Girl” or
the “Oberlin Student Graduate Person indeterminate is
not the goal if we focus on competencies, PLA,
transfer of credit, assessment.
• Many institutions outsource much of what used to
be proprietary:
Food service
Parking lots
Technology services
Instructional Design resources
“What is our business? Our business is the business of
ideas. We all talked about returning to the core -teaching and learning -- and developing a new funding
strategy to support that. When is the last time a parking
space found a cure for cancer?”
--Geoff Chatas, senior VP and CFO, Ohio State
University, Quoted in Inside Higher Ed, 15 July 2013
The Pressures
• Funding and resource limitations, especially at state
institutions and small private colleges
• Need for accountability: Focus on learning
outcomes, tighter oversight by regional accreditors,
articulation with workforce and industry needs
• Technological change: students have options online
and elsewhere, expectations for flexible modes of
delivery, opportunity to “swirl” and transfer back and
• College Completion Agenda: grants come with
expectations that structures will be created
The Question
• Where is the balance? How important is it for a
college to have its own unique approach, native
curriculum, faculty control?
What is our core mission?
• Teaching and Learning
• Helping students achieve success
• CAEL: Linking learning and work
Acceptance of PLA
• If you accept PLA, you already are giving up control
over some learning. Learning can come from
anywhere, and you didn't direct or control it.
• Is learning from elsewhere just as good as what
happens at your institution? Data suggests yes:
– Fueling the Race to Postsecondary Success shows high success
rates for PLA students
– 60% of community college students who transfer to four-year
schools graduate within four years (National Student
Clearinghouse Research Center)—compares with 59% overall
graduation rate
– May be a tribute to accreditors, independent validators of learning
Advantages of Scale
• Economies of scale: costs us less if we outsource to
national entities.
• Learning Counts, CLEP, DSST, StraighterLine, ACE
and NCCRS all provide services that have high
standards in allowing students to acquire
knowledge or demonstrate it in a manner that we
feel comfortable accepting.
• We rely on national organizations to help us set
standards. AAC&U provides VALUE rubrics and
frameworks to set our general education
• IT, Data Management, LMS’s—all have standards
More Scale
• Colleges created the regional accreditors and the
College Board ourselves. They were a way to share
resources and create and maintain standards (and
in some cases, to protect our interests and keep out
the riff-raff)
• But those organizations are more centralized and
more powerful in many ways.
Disruptive Innovation
A Sector…
• with complicated
products/ services…
• that were expensive and
• And served only a limited
few sophisticated
Is transformed into one which…
• Offers products and services
• Are simple, affordable and
convenient serving….
• Many--no matter their wealth
and expertise
--Louis Soares, 2012
Advantages of local control
Research (to a certain extent)
Unique, niche programs
Regional or local distinctiveness
Close ties with local employers, cultural
• Sense of identity
• Other?
A Middle Ground?
• Partnerships with other Colleges--Difficult to create
without mandate
• Excelsior and Thomas Edison State College: testing
and portfolio
– Each has its own expertise
– Assign one program to each? Share staff and resources?
– Logistics, ego, job security got in the way
Where Partnering Can Work
• When the other organization has a
different mission or set of goals
• Example: Saylor Foundation and TESC
• Where there are mutual benefits
• No one is subordinate to the other
• We can assess the final products
• Medium Scale
Program Review Consortium
• Includes six institutions that conduct reviews of
training, licenses, and certificates:
Thomas Edison State College
SUNY Empire State College
Excelsior College
Vermont Community Colleges
Charter Oak State College
Granite State College
• Goals: Share reviews with one another, share
resources, establish a common definition of
college-level learning, ensure standards
NJ PLA Network
• Includes most two-year and four-year public
institutions in NJ
• TESC coordinate sharing of standards and methods
for evaluating prior learning—all contribute
• Institutions without PLA programs send students to
Thomas Edison State College for same price
• Faculty at other institutions will be trained to
evaluate portfolios, review training
• Network might expand to other NJ institutions,
neighbors in Pennsylvania and Delaware
• Issues: transcripting, “ownership” of process
Other Plans
• More work with OER partners
• Graduate!Philadelphia
• Small-scale collaboration with SUNY Empire State
College on competencies
• Ensure regular communication among current
Medium is beautiful.

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