At a time of rising college costs, it’s unusual to hear about price slashing in higher education.
But at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, that’s exactly what is happening with a program called Prior Learning From Experience.
“The cost was recently reduced by nearly two-thirds in an effort to reduce the barrier for returning students,” said Evergreen spokesman Todd Sprague.
And now college officials hope a new fee structure will help attract more South Sound residents to the program.
Prior Learning From Experience, or PLE, is designed to put older students on the fast track toward a bachelor’s degree by allowing them to apply for academic credit based on knowledge acquired through life and work experience. That can include military service, nonprofit work or careers in the private and public sectors.
Students create a portfolio detailing their learning experiences; then they can submit that document to faculty members who will assess it for academic credit. Those are the credits that are part of the new fee structure.
For example, Noel Parrish is building a portfolio about her accounting and fiscal tech experience in state government, as well as her work as former president of the nonprofit Garden-Raised Bounty (GRuB).
“People have been telling me about this program for years,” said Parrish, 27, of Olympia. “It challenges me to really dig deep into what my learning is compared to college-level theory.”
Until recently, PLE credits were similar to the college’s regular tuition rates, according to faculty member Nancy Parkes.
But after several years of double-digit percentage rate hikes, would-be students were getting deterred by sticker shock.
“If people can’t afford it, it’s not accessible,” Parkes said. “Everybody’s goal here was to make it more accessible.”
College officials, led by President Les Purce, came up with the price reduction in consultation with Evergreen’s Board of Trustees, she said. PLE credits are now tied more closely to the program’s actual operating cost, which includes time for faculty members to review and assess students’ portfolios, registration fees and other costs; the new price is $1,953 for up to 30 credits, `compared with $5,208 for up to 29 credits last year, according to Parkes.
PLE has been offered in some form at the 40-year-old college since its early days. The program has changed quite a bit over the years, and Parkes says it’s important to note that students aren’t just buying a block of credits.
To get into the program, students are required to take its prerequisite quarter-long 4-credit class, Writing From Life.
Next, those admitted into the program take the PLE Document Writing course. It’s a four-credit course that can be taken multiple times for up to 16 credits, and it’s priced the same as a regular Evergreen course.
Because it is designed for older students, the PLE program often serves as an academic boot camp, where men and women can polish their research, writing and presentation skills.
“The writing is really extreme,” said Lisa Bennett-Perry of Olympia, who is creating a portfolio about her 20-plus years of experience in social services. “It’s been a fascinating trip back in time focusing on how to describe not what I did, but what I learned.”
Dennis “Bergmann” Friscia, 60, of Seattle, said the program sounds a lot easier than it is.
“It’s like writing a memoir, really, and then asking for college credit for it,” said Friscia, a professional musician. “For someone whose career spans decades, it’s challenging. You have to go through so much material.”
Dorian Eberly, 53, of Olympia described the PLE program as “life affirming.”
“It has shown me that the work that I’ve done, and the person I am, is valuable and my experience is invaluable,” the former paralegal said.
Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/edblog