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University College offers “professionals” easier road to degree

By Laura Fenton

Frustrated by the amount of time it was taking to earn a degree while also working full time, Ann Marie Charnes felt aspirations of earning an undergraduate degree and the dream of attending law school both slipping away.

Dissatisfied with her experience at a community college in Mississippi, Charnes met with an adviser at the University of Memphis’ University College.

After one appointment, Charnes had a clear vision of her degree requirements and a proposed graduation date of May 2013 — one year sooner than at the community college.

“That just sounded too good to be true,” Charnes said. “It was incredible how easily my adviser understood what I wanted. The classes I needed were not only available, but I had options of when and where I could take them – on campus or online.”

The element that sped along her timeline the most was the 23 portfolio credit hours she earned for the 22 years of learning associated with working as a certified legal assistant.

The University College’s Experiential Learning Credit (ELC) program awards undergraduate and graduate students with credit hours for knowledge gathered while on the job, during travel or in professional development programs.

Undergraduate students seeking ELCs must have a declared major with the University College. All graduate students seeking ELCs are invited to apply for the credits without declaring a University College major.

Either through a pre-assessed program or by submitting a portfolio demonstrating knowledge gained, students learn by participating in hands-on trainings or by reflecting on the experiences from their professional lives.

Advising
Tracy P. Robinson (right), a University College adviser, describes courses available for the upcoming semesters to Jerry Wigginson. One option available every term is the Experiential Learning Credit program, which awards students credit hours for knowledge gathered on the job, while traveling or during professional development programs.

Those who took time off from seeking a degree or those who wish to get a secondary degree are highly encouraged to participate in the ELC program either on campus or online. The average recipient of ELCs is a 44-year-old active professional.

The hours awarded to Charnes meant she was well on her way to graduating.

“It validated all that time I had put into a career that wasn’t really considered a career back then,” Charnes said. “A paralegal didn’t get the credit in the early 1990s that they do now.”

In addition to saving Charnes time, the ELCs saved her money. Each credit hour awarded costs students $30.

“This would be a great way for a person to get up to 30 hours of undergraduate credit under Experiential Learning for $900,” said Dr. Richard Irwin, associate dean of the University College.

Undergraduate students can receive up to 30 credit hours and graduate students can earn up to six hours of credits. The average award for undergraduate students is 10 hours.

Pre-assessed programs, like the “48-Hour Launch” weekend offered through the entrepreneur-developing organization LaunchMemphis, award students with credit hours for participating. Participants in the LaunchMemphis event earn three credit hours while helping real entrepreneurs build a plan for their startup businesses.

“It’s pretty intense, but it’s fun and interactive,” said Andre Fowlkes, co-founder of LaunchYourCity, of which LaunchMemphis is a part of. “It’s a very unique way of learning. As they’re building and helping these companies, they’re acquiring a very gifted skill set.”

In one weekend, participants learn how to pitch ideas to consumers or investors, build a business model, test a hypothesis, use marketing channels successfully, build a website, create a prototype for technological items and more.

These types of skills are best learned outside of a traditional classroom, Fowlkes said.

“You can’t teach entrepreneurship,” he said. “You have to learn through apprenticeship. You actually have to build in order to learn this entrepreneurial skill set. So, unlike many of the classrooms out there that try to teach it out of a book, we don’t necessarily believe in that. You have to go through the process from ideation all the way to turning that into an actual business.”

For students like Charnes with years of professional experience, creating an electronic portfolio is the other option.

Students submit several elements: a target statement (goal of the course), syllabus, learning essay (about experiences and knowledge acquired) and evidence to support the essay.

“You are the one creating the syllabus because you are the one that’s creating the course,” said Janice Bird,Experiential Learning graduate assistant. “It’s a big undertaking to do this. It’s also a learning experience creating the portfolio. It helps validate their experiences and makes them feel like someone else recognizes the validity.”

Charnes can’t say enough positive things about the ELC program. She has her sights set on law school, too (she’ll take the LSAT in December).

“If anybody is thinking of going back to college, they really need to check out the University College,” she said. “They could be closer to their degree than they realize.”

For more information, email elc_program@memphis.edu or visit www.memphis.edu/univcoll/experiential_learning.php.
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