Everything You Need to Know About College Degree Completion Programs

Many colleges and universities have programs that give credit for college-level courses taken in the past, as well as accumulated work experience

By Neil Johnson
Posted 2012

Degree Completion Programs
Degree Completion Programs

Maybe you have some old college credits tucked away like change in a drawer that you’d like to put to use, or you’ve spent time and earned experience in your field that should be worth something when returning to college to pursue a degree.

Many if not most colleges and universities have established programs giving credit for old courses or accumulated knowledge. Often called degree completion programs, they can be used if you return to school or are a first-time college student who skipped college earlier and is convinced now’s the time to secure a degree.

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The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools describes a college degree completion program on its website as one usually designed for working adults and non-traditional students who transfer credits from previous courses or gain credits from experience.

Degree completion programs are partly aimed at people whose education was interrupted for any number of reasons - military personnel, people who didn’t enter college in earlier years or people in jobs that require a higher degree to advance, such as registered nurses.

There is a wide variation among schools about which former credits they accept, how those can be applied to a degree and what courses your experience allows you to skip.

Often old credits can be applied toward electives or a school’s basic required courses. For fields that can change rapidly, credits from classes taken years back may provide less help toward current degrees.

Your experience may apply more toward specific courses in your degree program.You can find numerous online degree completion programs that require little or no class time and others that have a combination of both.

Also, some community colleges are looking at how to help people over 50 hit by lay-offs and changing work environments seek degrees for job training in other fields and using degree completion efforts as part of the plan.

The non-profit Council for Adult and Experiential Learning helps colleges set up plans for crediting work and life experience and has formed a program, LearningCounts.org, that can help apply experience to college credits.

One of the more familiar ways to transform experience to college credits is the CLEP or College Level Exam Program used by 2,900 colleges and universities to access credits for undergraduate degrees. You may be able to earn up to 12 credits by passing a CLEP exam, though it varies by school, the CollegeBoard.org said on its website.

Military and Other Types of Degree Completion Programs 

The American Council on Education also works with colleges and adult students to get credit for courses and exams outside traditional school programs, the council’s website said. The military is one of the main providers of work experience and the constraints of military service and deployment can make finishing college difficult.

The United States government, through the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support, pays for any of 33 introductory-level college subject CLEP exams, according to CollegeBoard.org’s site. Also, some veterans may be eligible to be reimbursed for the cost of the CLEP exams that generally run about $80, the site said.

The American Council on Education also works with the Department of Defense and reviews military training and occupations to see how they can apply toward college course credit, the council’s website, acenet.edu, said.


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