New Report Details Opportunities for Community Colleges to Bridge Students’ Academic and Work Experiences

March 12, 2020

Make It Count, a new publication from ACCT, outlines how community colleges can use prior learning assessments to award academic credits to students with work experience and better partner with businesses.

The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), with support from Guardian Life, today released the second report in a four-part new series detailing critical issues and strategies related to community colleges’ roles in workforce development. Make It Count focuses on the need to better bridge students’ academic and work experiences using prior learning assessments, the practice of awarding credit for learning out of the classroom. These experiences frequently include prior work and employer-based training, military experience, and skills-focused courses and bootcamps. The report also highlights how prior learning assessments have become an important component of community college and business partnerships. The report highlights three examples of prior learning assessment initiatives at Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College and the Dallas County Community College District.

“Many community college students who embark on their studies bring a wealth of life experience and knowledge from outside the classroom,” said ACCT President and CEO J. Noah Brown. “By awarding credits for knowledge gained from work and other experiences, community colleges help students complete their degrees. Doing so also supports business needs for talent development by marrying real-world experience with their coursework. The prior-learning assessment strategies presented in Make It Count offer community college leaders with tools to enhance student supports and workforce development efforts.”

Major takeaways from the report include:

  • The nearly 70% of community college students who work while enrolled and the 50% of community college students who are age 25 and older could benefit from prior learning assessment credits for their work experiences outside the classroom. Prior learning assessments also greatly benefit other groups of community college students, including those with military experience and students who are looking to advance in their careers.
  • The use of prior learning assessments has expanded through federal and state policies that encourage colleges to bridge students’ academic and work experiences. Through the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program and the Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships pilot, detailed in the report, community colleges have expanded their use of prior-learning assessments to award students with academic credit for work and non-traditional academic experiences.
  • Community colleges can use prior learning assessments to strengthen business partnerships. According to consumer research from Strada Education Network and Gallup, 33% of American adults without degrees are more likely to seek additional education directly from an employer, rather than a college or university. Thus, finding ways to offer training in partnership with businesses and award credits can allow community colleges to attract adult learners seeking additional education.

 “Employers have a great need to ensure that their current and future employees are continually learning an growing their skill sets,” said Michael Carren, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Guardian. “Experiential learning and the use of prior learning assessments helps workers leverage their career experience and gain credentials that are vital to the success of companies and set them up to be life-long learners.”

Last year, with support from Guardian, ACCT released a comprehensive report on community colleges’ role in workforce development, Partnerships for a Future-Ready Workforce, and a brief on supporting working students, The College-Work Balancing Act. Make it Count is the latest in this series which gives an in-depth look at critical issues and strategies related to community colleges’ roles in workforce development. Over the next year, ACCT will publish two additional reports on the topics of meeting needs for upskilling and adapting to automation in the workforce.

Contact: David Conner (ACCT): 202.775.4454;


About ACCT

The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) is a non-profit educational organization of governing boards, representing more than 6,500 elected and appointed trustees who govern over 1,200 community, technical, and junior colleges in the United States and beyond. Follow ACCT on Twitter @CCTrustees.


About Guardian

Every day, Guardian provides Americans the security they deserve through our insurance and wealth management products and services. Since our founding in 1860, our long-term view has helped our customers prepare for whatever life brings whether starting a family, planning for the future or taking care of employees. Today, we're a Fortune 250 mutual company and a leading provider of life, disability, dental, and other benefits for individuals, at the workplace and through government sponsored programs. The Guardian community of over 9,000 employees and our network of over 2,500 financial representatives is committed to serving with expertise when, where and how our clients need us. Our commitments rest on a strong financial foundation, which at year-end 2018 included $8.4 billion in capital and $1.4 billion in operating income. For more information, please visit