Articulating College Credit through IT Certifications

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

Prior Learning Assessment is an important strategy for validating the experience of adult students, yet determining which IT certifications to focus on and aligning the outcomes to relevant coursework can often be challenging for faculty and university administrators alike. This session focuses on identifying key certifications and mapping those outcomes to course objectives.


I work at Southern New Hampshire University as the Senior Director, Academic Operations and Portfolio Management, leading the design and implementation of the University's new and revised degree programs. I'm passionate about working with adult and other non-traditional students, and believe that education is our society's greatest equalizer and I am committed to providing every opportunity to provide access to quality, affordable education to those who might not otherwise have that opportunity. Some random things about me: I've traveled a lot and love to cook all sorts of things and if it's not spicy, don't bother! I'd choose flight over invisibility, and if I were a tree, I would be an oak so I could have all the acorns I wanted - also, squirrels are cool, even if they are just rats with good fashion sense.

Extended Abstract

In recent years, Southern University has seen an increased interest in prior learning assessment (PLA) from both students and industry-partners alike and has emerged as an important strategy for helping students receive credit for their experience and reduce their overall cost of enrollment. Especially in rapidly evolving STEM fields, there is a significant need to provide students with alternative pathways to completing their programs, recognizing that learning is not solely bound to the confines of the classroom. In today’s economic landscape, postsecondary education, in some form or another, has become a prerequisite to success; however, many learners, especially adult and other nontraditional students – SNHU’s core population – often struggle to navigate through long and complex degree structures designed for traditional student populations. This strategy is further supported by research on more than 62,000 adult students from 48 institutions showing that adult students – regardless of race/ethnicity, age, financial aid status, or gender – with credit earned through PLA were two-and-a-half times more likely to complete a degree compared to adult students without such credit (Klein-Collins, 2010). In an environment in which more adults are returning to school to earn their degree, PLA plays a critical role in helping students reach their goals.

More than ever, adult students are returning to their education with diverse experiences and histories, and are seeking avenues to bridge the gap between their experiences and future goals in a rapidly evolving employment market. For many technology-based positions, the question about qualifications can be murky for both experienced professionals and those looking to enter into a new career. While a certification often reflects a specialized qualification in demand, many job postings still require both a certification and a degree. Further, the trend towards AI-powered applicant tracking systems often specifically look for keywords focused on in-demand certifications (Cappelli, 2012). The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reflects at least a bachelor’s degree, if not higher in some instances, as the entry-level education required for many IT-related positions, including computer network architects, computer programmers, and systems administrators. This does not come as a surprise given that management (55%), communication (27%), leadership (20%), and problem solving (15%) consistently make it to the top of common skills frequently listed in job postings between August 2017-August 2018 as tracked by EMSI Labor Market Analytics. Within this same time period, beyond a degree top qualifications reflect myriad certifications from Cisco, CompTIA, and Microsoft, to name a few. Finding ways to integrate essential certifications within the field into degree requirements benefits industry veterans who already possess many of the hard skills but are lacking the degree to bring their experience together, as well as those entering IT careers who need avenues to validate their learning.

Determining which certifications to focus on and aligning the certification outcomes to relevant coursework, however, can often be challenging for faculty and university administrators alike. This hands-on workshop designed with faculty, administrators, and instructional designers in mind, will focus on the steps necessary to identify relevant certifications, and evaluate selected certifications for courses to validate that the content, scope, assessment and rigor of selected certifications are clearly aligned with post-secondary educational opportunities. As a result of the workshop, participants will be able to:

  1. Develop strategies to implement prior learning opportunities within STEM-related degrees
  2. Identify key certifications required within the IT field
  3. Map certification outcomes to course outcomes or competencies

The workshop will initially begin with a whole group discussion on the current PLA landscape, including barriers and best practices, and participants will then work through guided exercises focused on mapping the CompTIA Security+ and Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNA) certifications to two separate IT courses in small groups. While additional examples will be provided, participants are encouraged to bring a laptop or other internet-ready device, and a syllabus that outlines an IT course’s outcomes, learning objectives, or competencies to work directly on mapping an identified certification to coursework from their institution.


  • PLA is part of a cohesive progression and retention strategy
  • IT certifications are increasingly required for IT professionals, which many adult students with experience have already earned
  • Bring a laptop and a syllabus that outlines an IT course’s outcomes, learning objectives, or competencies



Cappelli, P. (2012). Why good people can't get jobs: The skills gap and what companies can do about it. Philadelphia, PA: Wharton Digital Press.

Klein-Collins, R. (2010). Fueling the race to postsecondary success: A 48-institution study of prior learning assessment and adult student outcomes. Retrieved from