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They are people who have gone on to serve in management for years. They are people hoping to make 180-degree career changes. One student’s story, in particular, stands out for Karen Bowen, that of a farm wife who pursued and excelled in a corporate job yet wanted to return to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh to pursue a degree.

“It’s amazing what these people have done without their degrees,” said Bowen, a former UW Oshkosh Assistant Dean in the College of Letters and Science. “Now, they want to leverage their prior learning and on-the-job experiences to fulfill a dream — to return to college, to earn a degree and to go even further in a career or pursue an entirely new opportunity.”

Accounting for previous academic experience and getting back to the classroom is the first objective.

Bowen is, herself, returning to UW Oshkosh to help the university oversee a $55,000 pilot grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education, through the UW System. It will help the university assess and refine the multifaceted process for returning students to enter into, or get back into, a UW Oshkosh academic track.

Bowen said the bigger question driving the grant-fueled examination of existing practices is whether there is the ability to consolidate and streamline the process without eroding academic standards UW Oshkosh has for returning students.

“This is not giving away a degree,” Bowen said. “This is not giving away credits.”

The grant is one of four, two-year Phase I Institutional Pilot Planning Grants designed to help UW System expand its credit for prior learning opportunities for adult nontraditional students.  The grant will help UW Oshkosh examine and improve its current prior learning assessment (PLA) standards – the varied programs and procedures within the institution that help its colleges and departments gauge the academic experience of student returning to school.

The grant is also aligned with the broader, UW System Growth Agenda goal of increasing the number of degree holders in the region and state, elevating the state’s overall education level and adding a new surge of knowledge-power to Wisconsin’s economy.

“This grant will help us focus on improving opportunities available to adult students in Northeast Wisconsin as we seek to expand the number of degree holders in our region and state,” UW Oshkosh Provost Lane Earns said. “We are fortunate to be among the four UW campuses to receive the planning grant and pleased that UW System recognizes the quality of our current prior learning processes.”

Bowen said for more than 30 years, UW Oshkosh has offered a PLA course, a “portfolio” class that allows returning students to develop an experiential and educational dossier demonstrating how their previous professional work experiences and grasp of theory warrant college credit.

Likewise, the grant will evaluate UW Oshkosh’s “credit for prior learning” options, which provide students 34 different testing opportunities within the College Level Examination Program (CLEP). Credit is granted for knowledge amassed and demonstrated by students. It may have been obtained through past college learning, through independent study or in professional development on the job.

The grant will also allow the university to evaluate how it examines and assesses military transcripts for UW Oshkosh credit.

Bowen said at the end of the two year grant cycle, UW Oshkosh will have a number of new, best practices that UW System hopes other institutions can adopt to better welcome returning students and propel them on their way toward a degree.

“We need to let the students’ talents and learning speak for themselves,” she said.

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