Alternative Credentialing in The United States: A Lens on Experiential Learning

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session OLC Session

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Brief Abstract

In today’s higher education climate, the path to degree attainment includes a myriad of credit alternatives including MOOCs, micro credentialing (badges), non-credit bearing certificate programs and various other opportunities.  As these alternatives evolve from their experiential learning predecessors, institutions are faced with the opportunity to treat them as credit-bearing learning experiences.  Options include prior learning evaluation such as CAEL’s Learning Counts, institution-specific credit evaluation services and credit recommendation services such as ACE’s College Credit Recommendation Service, as well as micro-credentialing such as MOOCs and badges.  However, while these alternatives expand learning opportunities for students, little is known about how institutions accept and document these opportunities, as well as whether these credits can be applied to the students’ degree programs.  Join this session to learn about the results of a research study that included six case studies of institutions that have been accepting various forms of experiential learning opportunities, or alternative credits for decades. This study, conducted by the OLC Center for Research in Digital Learning and Leadership, was commissioned by DEAC, Presidents' Forum, and USA Funds.



Leah Matthews currently serves as the Executive Director of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission located in Washington, DC. The DEAC is a private, non-profit organization founded in 1926 that accredits 102 distance education institutions serving nearly 1.2 million students annually. Dr. Matthews has over eighteen years of experience in higher education accreditation. Her expertise in higher education policy led to her selection as a non-federal negotiator for the U.S. Department of Education’s 2014 Rulemaking Sessions that addressed areas that included distance education state authorization. In addition, Dr. Matthews is currently serving an At-Large Member of the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) and as a board member of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA). Dr. Matthews is leading an important transition for DEAC as it develops a unique and recognizable brand about its contribution to quality in distance education, its value and service to stakeholders, and its adaptability to change and innovation in distance education. Her experience offers unique insights into how the current accreditation and regulatory communities of interest can maximize the opportunity to optimize technology-enhanced teaching and learning in higher education. Dr. Leah Matthews began serving as the DEAC Executive Director on April 1, 2013. Dr. Matthews came to DEAC from her previous position as Vice President for Recognition Services at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the national coordinating organization for higher education accrediting organizations. In that role, she managed the CHEA recognition process for 60 accreditors that provide regional, national and programmatic accreditation. Prior to working with CHEA, Dr. Matthews served nearly 12 years on the staff of the Accrediting Commission for Career Schools and Colleges, of which for seven years she held a senior leadership position. Prior to joining ACCSC, Dr. Matthews worked for five years as a civilian based at the U.S. Army Japan Headquarters in Zama, Japan where she directed family support services and education programs for children and youth and where she directed the Army Family Action Plan advocating for post-secondary education opportunities for soldiers and families assigned to the U.S. Army Japan, Headquarters. Dr. Matthews also taught for several years in the Baltimore City Schools system. Dr. Matthews earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music and Education from Westminster College, New Wilmington, PA; a Master of Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma and a PhD in Education from George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia.