Fort Smith area working adults can earn a bachelor’s degree while continuing to work thanks to a new program announced Monday (Jan. 28) by the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
The Adult Degree Completion Program will provide “a streamlined educational pathway for students returning to school with 30 or more credit hours” who are working toward a bachelor’s degree in either organizational leadership or general studies, a media release on the new program states. Previous college experience (those 30 or more credit hours needed to qualify for the program) do not have to be in those courses of study. As an added incentive, students also can receive class credit for prior work experience.
“We are awarding credit for prior learning to eliminate duplication of a student’s educational effort, thus shortening the time to degree attainment,” said Dr. Edward Serna, UAFS interim chancellor.
There are eligibility requirements for the program, which include having five or more years of work experience and not having previously earned a bachelor’s degree. However, individual consideration will be given to students who do not meet the requirements, officials said.
Students enroll in two classes their first semester — portfolio review, in which students create and submit a portfolio of prior work experience, and introduction to adult learning, that reintroduces study skills and explains campus resources. The adult learning instructor will serve as the student’s academic advisor throughout the program. The portfolio students create will determine how much course credit can be awarded for employment experience.
“The students who enroll in the UAFS Adult Degree Completer program will develop a Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) portfolio to document knowledge they have gained through legitimate means outside an academic environment. This knowledge may have been acquired through work, military training, other types of training, seminars, national certifications or other experiences. The portfolios will be evaluated by faculty experts to determine the amount of college credit to be awarded. The maximum number of credit hours to be awarded through a prior learning assessment is 24,” Serna said.
The introductory courses will be evening courses taught in person on campus, but other classes will include online or in-person course offerings based on the student’s preference and availability.
“This program will truly meet students where they’re at, addressing the obstacles they face in returning to school to earn a bachelor’s degree,” Serna said. “We designed this program based on focus groups and surveys of non-traditional students to learn more about them and their challenges. The ADCP is truly a program shaped for and by the working adult.”
The program is unique in two ways: It gives students the opportunity to earn college credit from prior work experience, and it is affordable because tuition is affordable and it reduces time to degree through Prior Learning Credit, Serna said. Though standard tuition and fees apply, UAFS is the most affordable campus in the state, he said. PLA will be offered at “reduced fee structure,” which has not yet been released.
“Nearly 30 percent of Arkansas residents 25 years or older have completed some college-level work,” Serna said. “There is clearly a need to help them come back to school and earn their degree so they can advance in their careers or find a better paying job. Educating students and helping them earn degrees is the core of our mission here at UAFS, and this program reflects our dedication to that goal.”
The program is the latest in a series of initiatives launched by Serna to advance the university’s five-year strategic plan goals. He said the program will fill a need in the Fort Smith region.