It is possible to bring multiple external resources into the Western Orthodox University programme for credit. The most obvious way that this is done is through the assessment of prior certificated learning (APL) and the assessment of prior experiential learning (APEL) which considers previous formal and informal learning respectively that has a bearing on the degree that is desired.
The Western Orthodox University offers a progressive programme of APEL aimed at the working professional. APEL applies the learning gained in professional experience via the submission and assessment of a formal portfolio of evidence for degree credit. It is suitable for mature professionals who wish to recognise their valuable learning in an employment context and beyond. There is no minimum period of enrolment for a APEL award other than the time required for assessment (see below). However, APEL is not an “easy route” to a degree since considerable documentary evidence is required before credit can be awarded.
Most frequently, APEL is combined with a dissertation and is used to reduce the dissertation requirements. However, it can be integrated into other programme routes at the University and in the case of highly experienced candidates it may be possible for them to qualify by APEL alone.
Since the nineteenth-century, universities, particularly in the United States, have established arrangements for those who seek a university degree to receive credits that recognize life experiences or achievements that are deemed to be equivalent to particular levels of formal academic study. As an example of this, Americans returning from war service in the military were permitted to continue their university education by substituting their life experiences for examination results. The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), a US non-profit body, has, since its foundation in 1974, published advisory recommendations for the conversion of particular prior learning deriving from life experiences so that a student may then obtain an exemption from formal academic study.
Not all life experiences qualify for exemption – only those that have demonstrated learning that is the equivalent of college credit. The University has many years of experience in this area, including among its Fellows several experts who have been professionally engaged in experiential assessment as part of national immigration processes.
“It is immoral to teach someone something he or she already knows.”
Elizabeth Monroe Drews, former Professor of Education, Michigan State University
“… assessment which is only available to those enrolled on a course severely restricts the variety of methods of learning which may be used. We must therefore seek to separate assessment from courses or programmes of learning. If we can do this, it will mean that any means of learning – by course, employment, open or distance-learning, private study etc – can be used to gain the competence needed for an award. It would greatly increase flexibility if assessment could also be offered to all who are ready for it; in other words, we should seek to provide assessment on demand.”
National Council for Vocational Qualifications in England (UPDATE, No. 1, 1989)
In addition, it is possible to take courses at other providers – which may not award degrees of their own – and accumulate these for credit towards a University award. One popular option is the “top-up award” where an existing professional certificate or diploma can be converted to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree by the completion of a dissertation or professional project. Another situation sometimes encountered is the “all but dissertation” or ABD Ph.D. candidate who has already completed the coursework component of their degree and now needs to undertake the dissertation at another institution in order to graduate.
It is also possible for external mentors to be brought into the University’s programme, subject to University approval in each case. This enables a greater breadth of expertise to be drawn upon and even the assessment of subjects in which the University does not currently appoint mentors. The external mentors, usually serving or emeritus faculty at another institution, are contracted by the student to assess the work concerned and the University then convenes a moderation panel to consider the outcome. At all points the student will have a University mentor appointed for support and academic liaison.
Converting Experience to Education
Only those with a minimum of three years of full-time professional experience (or an equivalent in part-time work or via a combination of education and experience) may be admitted to the APEL procedure.
Like other institutions employing APEL and similar methods, the University has based its standards on the recommendations of university authorities in the United States, where APEL has been most consistently pioneered, as an overall basis for converting professional experience to education.
The guidelines are as follows:
High school diploma
Candidates must have a minimum of three years of professional experience in addition to other academic and professional criteria which will be assessed individually.
Up to the level of a bachelor’s degree (three years of postsecondary education)
Every three years of professional experience are considered equivalent to one year of education.
To reach the level of a master’s degree (four years of postsecondary education)
The applicant must have the equivalent of four years of postsecondary education (through the formula whereby every three years of professional experience are considered equivalent to one year of education, or a combination of education and experience).
To reach the doctoral level
The applicant must have the equivalent of six years of postsecondary education (through the experience formula above or a combination of education and experience) and demonstrate to the satisfaction of the University that he or she has additional experience that places him or her at the forefront of professional life, amounting to at least a further two years of education. It is usual that portfolios at the doctoral level will include significant published work such as books, research articles or creative output that definitively establishes the standing of the candidate. Where there is a significant emphasis on research, innovation and discovery, the Ph.D. can be awarded via this route. Alternative designations include the Doctor of Professional Studies (D.Prof.)
How is credit awarded?
At the University, we use the methods of prior learning portfolio, past college credit and professional certification to determine the award of credit in our APEL programme, and require considerable documentation of prior learning before a degree is awarded. In addition, the claimed standing of each candidate is externally verified wherever possible. We only award credit when the work experience demonstrated is equivalent to knowledge gained at college level and as a result a degree earned via APEL is equivalent to a University degree earned through a more traditional taught or research route. Assessors for the APEL programmes include faculty who are highly experienced in this field. In short, the process is thorough, rigorous and is not an “easy” way to earn a degree.
General assessment of experiential learning
The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) based in Chicago, The American Council on Education, the University of the State of New York, and other international educational agencies – for example, the Credit Accumulation Transfer Scheme (CATS) in the United Kingdom – have established and published comprehensive guidelines for converting prior learning and experience into academic credit. It is estimated that over 2,000 colleges and universities worldwide now follow these and other guidelines, or have adapted them to meet their own needs and situations. For example, according to the guidelines of the Modern Language Association, perfect fluency in a second language is equivalent to 36 of the 120 required credits at the bachelor’s level. A private pilot’s license is equivalent to 6 to 15 credits depending on its type. Various military or company-sponsored courses are worth anywhere from 1 to 40 credits depending on the degree to be earned. “Principles of Good Practice in Assessing Experiential Learning” (Warren W. Willingham, 1977), a publication of the former Co-operative for the Advancement of Experiential Learning (subsequently the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning: CAEL) summarizes the situation clearly:
“…all learning in order to be most effective should have both an experiential and a theoretic component.”
CAEL has sought to emphasize assessment of adult learning in situations in which:
“…the priority is upon observing, interacting, performing, making things happen, feeling the effects of … activities, noting responses of others, etc…”
Assessment and application procedures
The first stage is an initial assessment to ascertain whether the applicant meets the criteria for acceptance into the programme. The applicant must first formally apply. On receipt of an acknowledgement of their application, they must compile and present a portfolio and submit this electronically via email (or in some cases, via postal mail) according to the instructions given.
In order to protect students from a high initial outlay against an uncertain outcome, there is a multi-stage fee structure for APEL programmes. This means that students who are not successful in the programme will be liable only for the first stage of these fees. The first stage is the Initial Fee, payable online. This fee is not refundable except in accordance with the standard Refund Policy.
The portfolio should consist of the following materials: a full resumé or curriculum vitæ; full transcripts and documentation of all previous post-secondary education; references from employers confirming the dates and responsibilities of employment positions held; publications; reports in journals and similar evidence (see link below). Affidavits from co-workers or yourself are also acceptable. All documentation must be in English and foreign language documents must be accompanied by a translation. The University does not provide a translation service, though there are many available on the internet. The University requests that materials be compressed in a .zip or .rar file before sending, in order to avoid difficulties in transmission of large files.
- Please see the following additional guidance on materials for assessment and the nature of the process
The University accepts transfer credit from other educational institutions, always on a case by case basis, without limit to the transfer that is possible. We do not accept transfer credit into an APEL programme from institutions that do not, in our judgement, award credits responsibly. In such cases, the candidate will need to find alternative ways to prove the knowledge and skills asserted in their educational record.
The University convenes a jury for the purpose of examining APEL portfolios, which will usually be comprised of a minimum of three persons. All jury members must hold graduate-level qualifications and at least two must hold a doctorate or its equivalent and have previous experience of examining at the required level.
The jury may ask the applicant for further documentation and interview them via email or telephone on any areas that need clarification. The jury may itself conduct verification procedures concerning the evidence submitted or delegate these procedures to third parties. It is usual for a majority of members of the jury to meet face-to-face where possible although other members may participate via email conference. The identity of members of the jury will only be disclosed to the student where the jury member in question has given specific permission to be so identified. This policy is to protect the jury from the possibility of being unfairly influenced or otherwise contacted by candidates during or after their deliberations.
The jury will make a formal report within 60 days and will determine either that the candidate is provisionally qualified for the degree that they have applied for, or for a lesser degree, diploma or certificate, or for no degree awarded by the University.
If the candidate qualifies for the degree on the basis of portfolio assessment alone
If the candidate qualifies for the degree for which they have applied after portfolio assessment, they proceed to the formal candidature stage and pay the formal Graduation Fee online. Once this is received they will graduate and receive their degree without further requirements.
If the candidate does not qualify for the degree on the basis of portfolio assessment alone
If the candidate does not wish to accept any lesser degree, diploma or certificate awarded by the University, or is not recommended for any degree, they may opt to become a candidate for the award they wish to earn by completing a dissertation or equivalent professional project in their field. The length and scope of the dissertation will depend on the amount of APEL credit awarded and will be advised by the University individually. The candidate will be assigned a Mentor or may propose a Mentor by agreement with the University. The dissertation or project will be examined by the University in the usual manner, and if successful, the candidate will be cleared to graduate.
The fee for this stage is included in the Initial Fee described above, but there is also an annual continuation fee payable on the anniversary of matriculation and a Graduation Fee if successful.
Successful applicants receive an official diploma of their degree award in the University’s standard format. Rather than a transcript, graduates receive an official attestation of graduation under University seal following the jury deliberation, which typically includes a report listing and commenting on the materials assessed.
Should documents be found after verification to be inauthentic, misrepresented or altered in any material fashion, the candidate will be dismissed from the programme without refund of fees and debarred from further study within the University. The University reserves the right to report cases of fraudulent misrepresentation to law enforcement officials. Where such a discovery is made after a candidate has graduated, the degree awarded may additionally be rescinded.