For 40 years, Shirley Lamson volunteered with the League of Women Voters, serving as president of local, county, and state boards in Pennsylvania. She worked on publishing voter guides, lobbying for legislation, and speaking in front of government agencies. On Cape Cod, she recently organized local chapters for the Million Mom March, advocating gun safety measures. Because of the knowledge she gained through these experiences, Lamson was able to earn 30 credits in the Prior Learning Program at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
Dr. Robert Waxler, who directs the program, said that its central force is a portfolio. Students think about their life experiences and how they might fit into various university courses. They write an autobiography, preparing a detailed view of the skills they picked up over time. For each university course they believe relevant experience should make un-necessary, students must compose a five-to six-page essay, demonstrating their knowledge, background and expertise in that area. Evidence is also included such as business reports, press clippings, and letters/citations from former employers or associates.
Lamson, for example, earned nine credits each in political science, sociology and English. She furnished brochures, published letters to the editor, and other League of Women Voters documents to highlight her communication skills. Her volunteer work with that organization allowed her to bypass taking a course on Introduction to American Politics.
Nils Bockmann, a 50-year-old Centerville resident, earned 30 credits through Prior Learning as he pursues an undergraduate degree in English/Writing/Communications. His experiences in the business world, investing in environmentally-correct cleaning products during the 1970’s and in human services, working with senior citizen organizations, resulted in credits and waived classes in political science, geriatrics and English. His role as the opinion page editor of the Cape Cod Community College newspaper allowed him to skip a similar UMD introductory writing course.
Waxler said that it’s not enough for students to have had successful careers. Typically, the students are older people who have been out in the world for a long time. They have been professionally successful, but if they can’t articulate their experiences, they can’t receive credits. A group of professors from the various disciplines read the portfolios and determine whether or not the classes may be waived.
Whether students are able to earn three credits or 30, those involved spoke about the program’s value.
Prior Learning can give those in the undergraduate program a boost…Prior to enrollment in that, it offers an opportunity for individuals to be introduced to higher education and get to know the university, Waxler said.
It was a nostalgic experience, said Lamson. Although time consuming to assemble the materials, it was enjoyable to get in touch with people to obtain letters and put items together. It makes you feel good to put forth evidence of all you’ve accomplished in life.
Lamson has been attending UMass Dartmouth for four years and has 96 credits out of the necessary 120 to receive her bachelor’s degree in humanities/social sciences. She topped off her 27 Prior Learning credits with an additional three by completing a Division of Continuing Education workshop course on compiling the portfolio.
Bockmann said that the demands of the Prior Learning Program are worth the end result. It’s a great way for somebody like me to get through school faster and capitalize on my strengths. His participation also had additional benefits. I got my cellar cleaned out and I spent five months working and organizing everything. It put me back in touch with a lot of people…I filled one, oversized milk crate with my final portfolio. It’s a box containing my life experiences, he said.
For more information about the Prior Learning Program, contact Barbara Brown , in the Division of Continuing Education at (508) 999-8041.