Program Offers Military Spouses College Credits for Life Experiences

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A new Defense Department pilot program aims to help military spouses turn life experiences, including volunteer time, into college credit. 

The process, known as a "portfolio" or "prior learning assessment," allows users to document their experience in an area and submit it to one of the participating colleges or universities. Officials at the school will then determine whether or not the student has proficiency in that subject equal to what they would’ve learned in the college course. If it qualifies, the student will receive college credit from the school without actually taking the class. 

All students, not just military spouses, have long been able to submit portfolios to any institution that accepts them. Many colleges use the system to attract veterans, allowing them to turn military experience into college credit. The Defense Department pilot program will allow military spouses to connect with education advisors through the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program who can help them get started in the portfolio process. 

"Those who are most successful at prior learning assessments have about five to ten years of experience in applied areas that align with college coursework in a defined discipline such as communications, human resources, supervision, management information technology, marketing, healthcare industry, merchandising, etc.," said Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman. 

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The pilot will launch Sept. 22 and run for two years, officials said. Over 100 schools, including state-run schools such as Arkansas State University and for-profit schools such as Strayer University, are participating.

To access the program, spouses will contact a SECO counselor by phone at 800-342-9647. That advisor will be able to help them decide if a portfolio is right for them, officials said. The program will not be available online.

Using a portfolio to receive credit could have a big impact on education costs, officials said. 

For example, Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey, which offers an internet-based degree program, charges over $1,200 per three credit course, according to the school’s website. But students submitting portfolios pay a one-time fee of about $1,200 for prerequisite portfolio how-to classes and a $350 flat fee for up to 12 hours of portfolio credits, the site says.

More succinctly, a student attending traditional classes would pay over $4,800 for 12 credits, while a student who earns them through portfolios would only pay about $1,600. 

The program was announced last month at a DoD Military Family Readiness Council meeting. Officials there said it will work as a resource to help spouses who do not qualify for the My Career Advancements Accounts (MyCAA) program, according to an Army Times report. 

That program gives up to $4,000 in education aid to spouses of service members in ranks E1 to E5, O1, O2, W1 and W2. Those spouses will also be able to use the portfolio pilot program.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at

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