Colorado Colleges are Creating a Common Set of Standards for Accepting Prior Learning

On May 8, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education approved a policy which will standardize how all state public colleges accept prior learning for credit.  This has far ranging implications given 700,000 Colorado citizens without college degrees have some form of prior learning which could be eligible for credit.

Prior learning areas addressed in the new policy include:

  • Advanced Placement (AP) exams
  • College Level Exam Program (CLEP) exams
  • DSST Credit by Exam Program
  • Course Challenge Exams
  • American Council of Education (ACE) credit for workforce learning
  • ACE Military credit
  • Individual Portfolio based assessments

Currently, not all colleges accept each of the above and if they do, it is inconsistent across colleges – for example, the AP score required for credit for a given major.

Currently there are 12 other states in process with similar initiatives.  Expected outcomes include:

  • Prospective students will have fewer barriers to entry for college due to consistent evaluation of prior learning.
  • Prospective students will be able to more fully utilize prior learning, thus eliminating some cost for college classes.
  • When a student transfers, they can be confident that credits achieved through any of the above methods will also transfer and be accepted by the new college.
  • This will help push Colorado towards its goal of 66% of 25 – 64 year olds having a college degree by 2025.  Currently, Colorado is on a path towards 53%.

The new standards for acceptance of prior learning are expected to be in place by March, 2016.

A link to the policy document is here.


The Colorado Dept. of Education has released an online tool to estimate the future earnings potential of various college degrees

The CDHE has released a tool called “EdPays” which enables students to make informed decisions about the value of a given college degree.  It covers certificates, Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD degrees.  It enables searching across fields of study, level of education, and earnings potential at 1, 5, and 10 years post graduation.

With this information, a high school student can make an informed decision about the investment cost and potential return for a given field of study in college.  The CDHE is very clear that ROI should not be the only factor which matters when selecting a field of study; however, they have now consolidated this information into one searchable place for students.  Previously, it was next to impossible to find consistent data.

A link to a Denver Post article with more information is here.

A link directly the CDHE EdPays tool is here.

How to save a lot of money on your bachelor’s degree (consider community college first) – Part 3 of a 4 part series

Continuing my short series on the role of community college in education, I wanted to address an area that many may not consider: That community colleges in Colorado can give you the same first two years of education you would get at a four year college, but at a much lower cost – 1/3 or less.

The Colorado Department of Higher Education has aligned the first two years of many classes across all public higher ed institutions in the state.  What does this mean for a student?  It means that if a student takes (example) “English 101” at any higher ed institution, it is the same class and if it’s a part of the Guaranteed Transfer Pathways, it will be accepted by any public higher ed institution as a transfer credit.

What this means for the student is that there is a very cost effective way to get their first two years of education through community college, even if their intention is to get a bachelor’s degree from a four year college.  In fact, about 15% of the students currently in community colleges in Colorado are on a path to complete a Bachelor’s degree from a four year college.

How does this work?  It’s too complex to fully explain in one blog post, but I will provide links to additional resources below.  At a high level, there are multiple approaches to guaranteed transfer credits.

  • Degrees with Designation.  There are ~30 areas of study in which the CDHE and all public higher ed institutions in Colorado have agreed that the credits will transfer (assuming acceptable grades and acceptance to the four year college).  A student may study in these areas, graduate from community college after 60 credit hours with an Associate’s degree, and then transfer to a four year college.  The four year college will accept the 60 credit hours, and after successful completion of 60 more, the student can graduate in a total of four years with a Bachelor’s degree from the four year college.  It is the exact same degree as if they had started there (there is no asterisk by it), but with much less cost invested in the first two years.
  • Transfer Agreements: Each four year college may also have additional transfer agreements and guidelines.  These will be in addition to the Degrees with Designation.  They specify additional credit transfer opportunities, usually based on the area of study.  This is particularly prevalent for engineering degrees.

Here are two links to good resources from the CDHE which go into much more depth than the above:

  • Overview of transfer pathways on the CDHE website.  Short of speaking with an Academic Adviser at a school, this is the place to start for all the detail on how transfers work.
  • One page overview guide to transfer pathways.  This is a brief overview of the transfer pathways.

The cost of community college can be 1/3 or less than that of a traditional four year college.  The Georgia Institute of Technology recently published a blog post on “how to pay for college“.  Their fourth item was attending community college first.

Given the ability to have guaranteed transfers of credits, why wouldn’t someone consider community college as a viable option for the first two years?  It’s not for everyone, but it certainly fits a key role for many who may otherwise not be able to afford a four year college straight out of high school.  In the end, this allows many more Colorado students access to a four year degree.

Facts about the Colorado Community College System (Part 2 of a series)

This is part 2 of a short series of postings about the role of community colleges in our education system.  The first is here.

Community colleges serve a key role in our education system.  Without them, students graduating from high school may have only one of two routes to go:  Directly into the workforce/military, or off to a 4 year college, and once that choice is made, it can be difficult to change it.  There are many high school graduates for which neither of those paths is the best choice – or they want the ability to be flexible.  That’s where community colleges can play an important role.

Community colleges can offer:

  • The ability to learn a trade or skill which is valued in the marketplace, often paired with a 2 year associates degree.
  • The ability to get an extremely cost competitive post secondary education.
  • The ability in Colorado, and other states, to complete many of the first two years of credits for a 4 year college degree at a greatly reduced cost with guaranteed transfer of credits to a 4 year college (assuming the student is accepted at a 4 year college).
  • The ability “go back” to college later in life and reinvent yourself by learning a new skill or trade.

Here are some interesting facts about community colleges in Colorado:

  • The Colorado Community College System (CCCS) is the largest higher education system in the state – with over 163,000 students.
  • The CCCS is comprised of 13 colleges and 35 campuses across the state.
  • Over 90% of first responders and 50% of nurses in Colorado were trained in the CCCS.
  • Community Colleges are open access – They admit anyone who is ready for college and has the desire to go.
  • Almost 10% of students in the CCCS will transfer to either a public or private 4 year college in pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree (or more).
  • Community Colleges provide over 20,000 students concurrent enrollment opportunities while in high school.
  • Community Colleges educate 48% of all minority undergraduate college students.
  • The two year graduation rate for CCCS students is 5th in the nation when compared with all other states.

The web site for the Colorado Community College System is:

I hope this has given you a quick overview of the role of Community Colleges in our education system.  Future parts of this series will focus on specific offerings and guaranteed transfer of credits to 4 year colleges.

Community College: An Intro by Tom Hanks – Part 1 of a Series

I’m going to do a short series on community college.  This will be the first post, with an intro by Tom Hanks.  (Sounds pretty grandiose.)  President Obama recently said that he’d like to see community college free for anyone.  It’s a $60B price tag, so it’s not likely to happen (in my opinion).  Nonetheless, what he said should build more awareness about how community colleges fit within the overall framework of our education system.

Tom Hanks got his higher ed start at Chabot Community College.  Last month, he penned an op-ed for the New York Times on how the ability to go to community college impacted his life.  In his words, “I owe it all to community college”.  Here is the link for your reading pleasure.

Future parts of this series will discuss how community college is evolving and what community college in Colorado can offer.  For those not familiar with it, you may be very surprised.