Academic Programs Committee Reports
at the University of Saskatchewan:
Challenge for Credit Policy
Academic Programs Committee of Council
Approved by Council April 18, 2002.
This policy will be reviewed in three years.
Between the spring of 1998 and the fall of 1999, the provincial department of Post-Secondary Education and Skills Training funded a joint University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina research project to investigate the viability of prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) at the university level.
Angie Wong, as the principal investigator, coordinated nine pilot projects which included six projects from the University of Saskatchewan and three projects from the University of Regina. Vice-President Atkinson chaired an advisory committee which included representatives from both institutions, SIAST, the regional colleges, and the government of Saskatchewan. The project culminated in a provincial symposium held in October, 1999.
The University of Saskatchewan was a partner in a successful funding application to Human Resources Development Canada in the fall of 2000. The Saskatchewan Labour Force Development Board received funding for an 18-month Saskatchewan PLAR Services Project to raise awareness of PLAR in Saskatchewan and to build provincial capacity for the process.
In September, 2001, a meeting was held at the University of Saskatchewan to explore the development of an institutional policy whereby credit could be granted to those students who can successfully demonstrate that they have mastered the knowledge and skills associated with the satisfactory completion of specific university courses but have not taken formal courses in the subject area. This meeting was attended by Iain Christison, Ken Coates, Fiona Haynes, Asa Kachan, Bob Lucas, Mary MacDonald, Pauline Molder, Wayne Skrapek, and Angie Wong.
The group reviewed several examples of university policies regarding PLAR and decided to use the University of Guelph policy as a model to develop a Challenge for Credit policy at the University of Saskatchewan. A working group, consisting of Asa Kachan, Mary MacDonald, Wayne Skrapek, and Angie Wong, was given the task of drafting a proposal. The working group was later joined by Fiona Haynes and Pauline Molder.
The draft policy proposal was reviewed by the Academic Programs Committee of Council, who made several suggestions for revision and agreed to circulate it to Colleges, Departments and other Council Committees for their suggestions and comments before taking it to Council for approval.
The draft policy was distributed to Deans, department heads and academic advisors in March, and several comments were received. For the most part, departments were supportive of the policy, but wanted revisions so that administrative procedures for applying the challenge credit would be developed between departments and the Registrarï¿½s Office, rather than specified in the policy. This change has been made.
Some other questions were raised about what demand would exist for Challenges, or whether departments should be required to justify a decision not to allow challenge credit.
The Academic Programs Committee agreed that the decision about whether to allow a challenge credit for any course would be entirely a department-level decision, based on the best interests of their students. If a program attracts students who have either extensive prior work experience, or training in other educational institutions for which university transfer credit is not available, there may be advantages for students and for the faculty in that program to allow Challenge credit for selected courses. On the other hand, a department which teaches in a discipline not covered at the high school level or in other educational institutions might determine that none of its courses should be eligible for challenge credit.
The Academic Programs Committee brought this policy to Council for approval at its April 18, 2002 meeting. After considerable discussion of the policy, Council voted to approve it but to review the policy in three years (see Request for Decision, below.) The Committee hopes that departments will discuss this policy and its applicability with their students and their faculty.
Introduction to PLAR and Challenge for Credit
Social and economic changes in the last decade have led to diverse and complex expectations of post-secondary education. Thirty years ago, post-secondary education programs and support services were developed on premises that reflected the mass market needs of homogenous groups of young people. The diversity of current day learners and the need to make learning more relevant to different groups of individuals, including mid-career professionals and adult learners from First Nations communities, are challenging some of these premises.
Students with previous learning experience
Increasingly, more adults are entering post-secondary education for the first time or after having completed a diploma. Many of these students have achieved significant learning through work experience, community work, self-directed study, or corporate training activities. Through prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR), students can show what they know through a fair assessment of their knowledge and skills by a trained assessor to earn credits toward a degree or diploma. Thus, PLAR can ease the entry or return of adult learners to formal learning by providing them with opportunities to articulate and verify what they know and can do against the standards required by specific university-level courses and programs.
PLAR and the university
In the university system, the assessor would be a faculty member with expertise in the content area and responsibility for teaching the course being challenged. PLAR is only available to a student if sufficient evidence is provided that the course material was acquired outside a degree program at the University or for courses from another University for which transfer credit is not granted. The learner has the primary responsibility for preparing the evidence that learning has taken place and that it contributes to an appropriate balance of theory and practical application found in a university-level course.
The challenge for credit process will enable us to place students more appropriately so that they are more motivated to learn.
Students who are bored or frustrated because they are required to re-take subject content that they already know or can apply are not motivated to learn. Second, exemption from a course or recognition for learning achieved enables adult students to save time, the most crucial factor for working adults with family responsibilities; this too can be linked to motivation to complete a degree. If the PLAR process enables students to enter programs, the presence of adult students with ï¿½real worldï¿½ experience usually enhances the interaction in a classroom, and can be a benefit to both younger students and the professor.
Recognition of prior learning through PLAR is seen as saving students time and money and facilitating such students to progress through a program at a faster rate, thus allowing graduates to enter the workforce sooner.
PLAR and transfer credits
It is important to distinguish between PLAR and the transfer of credits from other academic institutions. Transfer of credits involves the evaluation and recognition by the University of the formal course experience gained by the student at other institutions. Formal mechanisms are already in place to determine the equivalence referred to, and to effect the credit transfer.
PLAR, on the other hand, proposes a mechanism whereby credit is granted to those students who can demonstrate that they have mastered the knowledge and skills associated with the satisfactory completion of specific University courses but have not taken formal courses in the subject area(s). Such mastery may have been acquired, for example, through work experience, independent study, or from non-degree courses. In the absence of formal acknowledgment of competence by an appropriately accredited institution, the student can challenge the appropriate course(s) offered by the University.
Challenge for Credit process
The challenge for credit process could include one or more assessment methods, including written and/or oral examinations, performance evaluations, research papers, interviews, standardized tests, and portfolios. All of these assessments require that the individual demonstrate, to one or more qualified faculty members, that the equivalent knowledge and skills have been acquired. Students who successfully complete the challenge process may then be granted an exemption, a prerequisite waiver, or advanced standing in a program.
Many universities provide a challenge for credit option for students; some have in place a mechanism for students to submit portfolios which are reviewed for general credits toward specified programs. Appendix A provides an excerpt from a British Columbia study that surveyed Canadian universities about their policies with respect to prior learning assessment.
In summary, the demand for PLAR is coming from working adults who already have much professional experience and some postsecondary education (e.g., a SIAST diploma) but not necessarily a degree. These include nurses and agriculture and forestry sectors managers. There are also a large number of former federal civil servants who have been devolved to the provinces and are required to obtain a degree in order to advance, not necessarily in their area of practice, but perhaps in the liberal arts. Government departments such as Post-Secondary/Advanced Education have recognized the need for PLAR and have started to provide human and some financial resources towards PLAR processes in post-secondary institutions in order to facilitate recognition of academic prior learning.
Principles for the Challenge for Credit Process at the University of Saskatchewan
The following principles are recommended for those departments and non-departmentalized colleges which plan to offer a challenge for credit option for students who have acquired substantial learning in a non-traditional environment and wish to demonstrate that their learning is equivalent to courses offered at the University of Saskatchewan.
1. Each department or non-departmentalized college which opts into the challenge for credit process has the responsibility of determining which of its courses may be subject to a challenge. This information should be reviewed and updated annually and distributed to the Office of the Registrar.
2. Credit should be awarded for learning stemming from experiences outside the context of formal courses at a university, and not simply as recognition of that experience per se.
3. Students may apply for the challenge for credit process only after they have been admitted into the University of Saskatchewan.
4. Students who have applied for transfer credit evaluation may not apply for credit by challenge until the transfer credit evaluation of their previous university or college program has been completed.
5. Students cannot challenge a course in which they are presently enrolled, or in which they had previously been enrolled past the add/drop deadline, either at the U of S or at another instutition.
6. Subject to Principle #5, students may submit an application to challenge for credit at any time during the academic year, and at any time during their academic careers.
7. Support for student applicants should be provided and can include:
- initial advising as to the basic merits of a challenge
- maximum permissible number of courses that can be challenged
- explanation of assessment methods
- provision of resource materials, e.g. course outlines, reading lists
8. Assessment should be implemented fairly. Credit should be awarded for demonstrated knowledge comparable to the standard expected of students who successfully complete University of Saskatchewan courses.
9. Credits awarded by the challenge for credit process will be recorded on the studentï¿½s transcript with the appropriate designation as recommended by the Office of the Registrar. No percentage grade will be awarded in a challenge credit.
10. Support for faculty should be provided and can include:
- briefings re the challenge for credit policy and process
- workshops on assessment methods that are appropriate for demonstrating and verifying prior experiential learning
11. The administrative and assessment workload entailed by the challenge for credit process should be acknowledged through an equitable distribution of the funds acquired from the application and challenge fees.
12. Those students whose applications for a challenge are reviewed by the department or non-departmentalized college concerned and who are subsequently denied the opportunity to challenge, or who fail a challenge examination, may appeal the decision to the department chair, the Dean of a non-departmentalized college, or the Deanï¿½s designate, whose decision represents the final judgment in the process.
Appendix: A Draft Administrative Process
The administrative process for Challenge for Credit will be developed by the Office of the Registrar in consultation with the departments which allow challenges for selected courses.
The Working Group which drafted the Challenge for Credit proposal suggested that the following administrative process could be used:
1. Students wishing to challenge a course(s) should first contact the Office of the Registrar to determine if the course is available for challenge.
2. If the course is available for challenge, the student should be encouraged to contact the department chair or Dean of a non-departmentalized college or designated faculty to discuss the knowledge and skills that are required in the course.
3. A student who decides to go ahead with the challenge process should next request an application form from the Office of the Registrar or the department or non-departmentalized college considering the challenge. Accompanying the application must be a clear statement as to the course(s) the student wishes to challenge, an explanation of how the student gained the knowledge necessary for the course, and any relevant supporting documentation to validate the claim. The completed application form and a non-refundable application fee ($50.00) must be submitted to the Office of the Registrar. The $50.00 application fee is charged regardless of the number of courses requested for challenge.
4. The Office of the Registrar will forward the request to the appropriate department(s) or non-departmentalized colleges for evaluation. The department chair or Dean of a non-departmentalized college will ask one or more faculty members to review the application to determine if a challenge by the student is appropriate. At this stage, the department or college has the option of interviewing the applicant.
5. Upon receipt of the response from all the departments concerned, the Office of the Registrar will inform the student which, if any, courses have been approved for challenge.
6. If a challenge has been granted, the student should, within 3 weeks, contact the department chair or Dean of a non-departmentalized college or a designated faculty member to determine the nature of the assessment and the deadline by which the work is to be completed. An ï¿½Assessment Agreement Formï¿½ confirming these conditions will be signed by the department chair or Dean of a non-departmentalized college and the student and forwarded to the Office of the Registrar.
7. For each course approved for challenge, a fee equivalent to one-half of the course tuition fee will be collected by the appropriate University of Saskatchewan unit.
8. Upon completion of the challenge for credit process, the department or Office of the Dean of a non-departmentalized college will inform the Office of the Registrar as to the studentï¿½s success or failure in the challenge.
UNIVERSITY OF SASKATCHEWAN COUNCIL
ACADEMIC PROGRAMS COMMITTEE
REQUEST FOR DECISION
Bob Lucas, Chair, Academic Programs Committee
DATE OF MEETING: April 18, 2002
SUBJECT: Challenge for Credit policy
DECISION REQUESTED: That Council approve the Challenge for Credit policy as described in the attached document, and that this policy be reviewed in three years.
SUMMARY OF PROPOSAL:
The policy would allow departments to award credit for prior learning experience, in courses for which such experience is applicable, on completion of a written final examination.
See document. More adults are entering post-secondary education after having achieved significant learning through work experience, community work, self-directed study, or corporate training activities. The Challenge for Credit policy will allow departments to award credit for such experience where appropriate when students can demonstrated that learning has taken place and that it contributes to an appropriate balance of theory and practical application as found in a university-level course.
The Academic Programs Committee sent the draft policy to deans and department heads for comment. For the most part, the draft policy was supported; the Music department indicated it already awards such credits on an informal basis.
For discussion purposes, the Committee also distributed to Council a memo received from Dr. David Schreyer, Anatomy and Cell Biology, which presents several arguments against approval of this policy. While the Committee supports the policy, it agreed that these issues should be discussed at Council.