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
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.
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
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
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
“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
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.memphis.edu/univcoll/experiential_learning.php.