Are Credit-by-Exams Right For You? Part 5

Is There Any Value to Taking a CLA?

We’ve talked a lot in this report about credit-bearing exams. But what about the CLA and the ETS? 

For many people, the only reason to pursue a college degree is to get a good job. On average, people with college degrees earn more than people without. (To find out more about these income and employment benefits, read our reports, 15 Top College Majors Ranked for Earnings and Unemployment Rates and Where the Jobs Are Today and in the Future: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.)

But the world is changing, and the “traditional” path to a career doesn’t always have to include 4 years at a brick and mortar college. In fact, one of the most successful businessmen in history was himself a college dropout, and he’s got some pretty persuasive opinion about the increasing importance and value of the CLA.


Bill Gates on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) and Online College Courses

Improving education is one of the highest priorities of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation supports education-oriented projects, surveys, studies, teacher town halls and documentaries like “Waiting for Superman.” In 2010, the foundation spent over $700 million a year on US education alone. The foundation worked with over 3,000 teachers and the American Federation of Teachers on a research project called “Measures of Effective Teaching” to find out what is actually working and what isn’t. 

Bill Gates is an outspoken supporter of the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA). On his blog, The Gates Notes, Bill wrote that “most people would agree that skills like critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing—the things the [CLA] test does measure—are pretty important.” The full blog entry can be found here

Bill Gate’s comments are part of a bigger conversation about the skills gap, which is the difference between the skills many new job seekers possess compared to the skills required for the jobs that desperately need people to fill them. At a time when a growing number of Americans have been out of work for over a year and jobs are going unfilled, it is astonishing that college graduates are graduating without the skills they’ll need to get a job. Among other things, many new jobs are in healthcare or in the area known as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

According to a survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the vast majority of employers feel colleges should be placing more emphasis on the essential learning outcomes that the CLA measures. Unfortunately, according to Gates on his blog:

“I’m reminded of a point made by Andrew Rosen of Kaplan, the for-profit education company, that colleges today know more about how many kids attend basketball games and which alumni give money than how many students showed up for economics class during the week, or which alumni are having a hard time meeting their career goals because of shortcomings in their education. That needs to change.”

The traditional way of doing things has led to a skills gap between job seekers and available jobs. Traditional colleges and universities are focused on the wrong things, and students are graduating unprepared for the jobs that are out there and buried under ever-increasing mountains of student loan debt.

But the new way of doing things – competency-based education, skills assessments like the CLA and the PLA (Prior Learning Assessment) and online college courses like those from StraighterLine and our partner schools – leads to a greater focus on and ability to train for the high tech jobs that are waiting for qualified applicants.

Bill Gates is throwing the considerable financial resources of his foundation behind the effort to revolutionize higher education. You can take advantage of that revolution for considerably less money: $149, in the case of the CLA.

Conclusion: Are Credit-by-Exams right for you?

So, after all of this, are credit-by-exams right for you? This may sound like a cop-out, but that’s a question only you can answer. Here’s what we do know: if you already have mastery of a subject, then credit-by-exams offer you the chance to earn real college credit faster and at a lower cost than virtually any other option out there. And if you’ve gained that real-world knowledge through work experience, corporate or military training, civic activity, independent study, and even hobbies, then credit-by-exams may be just the non-traditional option you’re looking for.

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