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CAEL Pathways Blog

Fifty Years Together: CPL, CAEL, and Founding Member Community College of Vermont

In March 1974, the Cooperative Assessment of Experiential Learning Project, which would evolve into CAEL, was formed. While CAEL's membership network today includes all 50 states plus Puerto Rico, Canada, Jamaica, Singapore, and Ireland, its founding institutional members numbered only 10. The Community College of Vermont was one of them. To highlight the prime role the previous 50 years of collaboration have played in positioning it for the next half-century of success, CAEL is highlighting partners like CCV to help celebrate its golden jubilee. 

Fittingly for a founding member of CAEL, CCV was at the vanguard of the credit for prior learning movement. For more than 40 years, it has offered an assessment of prior learning class that awards three credits and helps students complete portfolios documenting their previous college-level learning. On average, students receive 30 CPL credits as a result. CCV was also an early adopter of online learning. Today, nearly 80% of its enrollment is in online courses, said Melissa DeBlois, director for the office of prior learning assessment at CCV and CAEL's January 2024 Member of the Month.

DeBlois' role lets her witness first-hand CPL's trajectory-changing transformation of the adult learner experience. "I love being a part of the journey for our students; from their first inquiry to a credit award, I get to experience the confidence and momentum that come from a student getting college credit for what they already know," she said. 

CPL often competes for limited staffing and budget resources, but DeBlois said the training and networking available at CAEL are a force multiplier that can allow "offices of one" to remain focused on serving the immediate needs of such students. In fact, it was her specialization in CPL, which began about 17 years into her 26-year (and counting) career at CCV, that introduced her to CAEL, which she likens to having another CPL-dedicated colleague by her side.

Looking back, DeBlois said two things most stand out among CAEL's 50 years of CPL work. She credits the CAEL standards for assessing learning for having the foresight to guide the growth and development of CPL. The evidence-based standards have informed institutions for decades, appearing on several institutional web sites and in a multi-edition book

DeBlois also singled out CAEL's quantitative CPL research. "When I came into the PLA world in 2015, one of the very first things that I learned about was the research that Becky Klein-Collins and her team had done with Fueling the Race to Postsecondary Success.” Along with 2020's The PLA Boost and more recent studies, they are "game changers in the credit for prior learning space," she said.

Perhaps the most rewarding evidence of how the CAEL movement has changed the game is the normalization of the working adult learner experience. "The Earn College Credit for What You Already Know video, shared in conjunction with the PLA Accelerator, [now Credit Predictor Pro] and Credit Predictor [now Credit Predictor Standard] was posted on college websites across the nation allowing adult learners to see themselves reflected in college marketing materials for the first time," said DeBlois. "That was an empowering moment and one that provided a model for college marketing departments to embrace, given the strong response."

"For institutions like the Community College of Vermont that have been closely connected to CAEL over the past 50 years, we have gone from outliers to national models," she added. "The idea of being student-centered and accessible to allow for our adult learners to find success has resonated with dual enrollment students and traditional-aged students who need to work or care for family members while attending college, putting those early outliers in a position to weather the storm of declining enrollment ahead."

As awareness about the importance of adult learning has grown, so has the size and diversity of CAEL's membership. CAEL has invested in the capacity to maintain connections and resources that allow its membership to benefit from a continual exchange of experience and expertise, something that DeBlois, even as a CPL expert, values. "I love hearing new ideas from CPL practitioners," she said. "It's helpful to hear from programs at every stage – those who've been at it 50 years, those who just got started in the past 10-15 years, and those just rolling out credit for prior learning in the past year or two. Hearing from others helps me strategize and streamline new initiatives."

DeBlois wants to return the favor. She invites CAEL members to join a grassroots CPL community of practice she helped form in 2018. The Prior Learning Assessment Network (PLAN) holds monthly Zoom meetings on the third Thursday of every month. (Except in November, "because everyone is at the CAEL conference.") Membership is free. "It's really been helpful for many of us who have seen shrinking professional development budgets," she said. "It's a way to continue to innovate and be in touch and network in the field without having to leave the comfort of our desks."

Anyone interested in joining PLAN can email Melissa at melissa.deblois@ccv.edu. But they may want to plan for a November PLAN meeting. CAEL's 50th annual conference has a special date this year: Oct. 30-Nov. 1 in New Orleans.

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