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The Importance of Foreign Language Credit

Early in his presidency, Barack Obama expressed the need of the nation’s employers for an additional 8 million college graduates by 2020. Achieving this requires improving postsecondary education for the underserved, including Latino students.

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) — earning college credit for life and work experience — can play a crucial role. Earning college credit for skills and knowledge they have already acquired , however, can help improve the odds that these students will complete degrees. PLA credits shorten the length of time required to earn a certificate, associates or bachelor's degree. This saves the student both time and money.

Latinos, who comprise a significant part of all major groups of the underserved, can benefit from PLA in many ways.

  • They are more likely to be the first generation in their family to attend college
  • They often come from families with lower household incomes when compared with white, black or Asian students
  • Many received at least part of their education in a foreign country
  • Latinos are more likely to be older than 25 when they first enroll at a postsecondary institution, and
  • Latino students typically work at least 30 hours per week to support themselves or family members

Considering the various obstacles, the relatively lower graduation rates among Latinos are more easily understood: They must navigate a maze of applications for financial aid, advisement, and degree plans often without the experience of family members as guidance. They must find time for classes, work and family obligations. Many can attend class only part-time, which means that a bachelor's degree could take seven or eight years. Additionally, at many institutions, they must adapt to a culture that is quite unlike what they have experienced before. These factors may cause some to wonder if they really belong on a campus.

One of the most effective ways to encourage Latino students and others with proficiency in another language is to take advantage of PLA and zero in on the foreign language credit. A joint study conducted by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning and Excelencia in Education found that 14 percent of Latino students earned foreign language credits compared with 2 percent of non-Latinos.

Furthermore, an additional 15 percent of the Latino students who received the foreign language credit earned PLA credits in other areas as well , compared to only 3 percent for non-Latinos.

Although the statistics show that the foreign language credit can serve as an effective starting point for encouraging Latino students to participate in PLA, there are other, less obvious benefits. Offering college credit for foreign language can help the institution connect with students. It demonstrates that the institution values the student's culture and prior experience. It can give Latino students a greater "feeling of belonging," especially at campuses at which Latino students are a minority population.

Improvement in graduation rates is essential if the nation is to have the supply of qualified workers that will be needed in the coming decades. Students who receive PLA credits complete their degrees at a rate that is 2.5 times higher than those without PLA credits.

Using the foreign language credit as a springboard for involving Latino students in PLA is an excellent way to improve graduation rates among Latinos.

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