Robyn St. Peter says she never believed a college education was in her stars. For one thing, it was expensive. For another, “I never thought I was smart enough.” She’s worked as a firefighter, EMT, LNA, and special education paraprofessional, and is a mother of four. Last year, she took advantage of an Assessment of Prior Learning (APL) class, and says she wouldn’t be where she is today without it.
APL is part of the Vermont State Colleges System’s Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) program, which offers college credits for knowledge and experience gained outside the classroom. CCV recognizes that college-level learning can happen on the job, in the military, and through volunteerism, and wants to help people who’ve acquired that learning use it toward a credential that can advance their careers. In addition to offering PLA opportunities to students in its twelve centers and online, CCV partners with local businesses to bring the program directly to employees.
St. Peter took advantage of APL when it was offered at her workplace, the UVM Medical Center, in the spring of 2017. She’s been an LNA for more than a decade, and dreams of continuing on to become an RN. She saw APL as her chance to get started down that path. By the end of the class, St. Peter earned 33 college credits.
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She says that was huge. “Knowing that my work experience meant something…I have so much knowledge. I wanted to be able to get something out of that.” She decided to complete her associate degree at CCV, and graduated with honors from the liberal studies program in spring 2018. Today she is in her second semester of the LPN program at Vermont Tech, and she wants to keep going. “I want to be an RN. I want to make a difference. My main goal as an RN is at some point I want to work in hospice. That is where I feel I’m being called. I know it’s not right away, because I want to expand and learn other things, but…I’ve made a difference in some lives when it comes to end-of-life.”
Amy Holibaugh is a learning and leadership development strategist at UVM Medical Center. She says choosing to offer APL was easy. “We have plenty of people who are interested in doing the next thing, which often involves higher education,” said Holibaugh. “We also have plenty of people who have an enormous amount of work experience and life experience, and [APL] seems like one of the best opportunities in our state to be able to validate that experience and help translate it into higher education credits. So I feel like it’s not only the right thing to do in terms of providing an opportunity, but it’s also the right thing to do in terms of honoring the incredible experience and expertise that our employees have.”
The credits that employees received translated into money that would otherwise be spent on tuition assistance for individual courses, instead of a single APL course. UVM Medical Center has continued to offer APL to its employees, with the latest cohort finishing their class in fall 2018.
Robyn St. Peter says the credits she earned through APL helped her realize that a college education was in her stars after all. “I was so excited because I was like, ‘that’s it. I can have a degree,’” she said. “It wasn’t my RN, but it was a piece of paper saying that I was smart. I could do something. That I succeeded in getting this paper that said that I had a degree.”