Fall 2009 Issue

Credit where credit is due

With the help of Barry’s portfolio program, a lifetime of hard work can really pay off

By Patricia Maldonado

While Barry students learn about business practices in the classroom, Joyce Galbut spent years testing them in the workplace, managing five nursing homes for Plaza Health Network in Miami and overseeing some 600 employees.

Despite her professional experience, Galbut, 52, knew her résumé lacked the prestige that comes with having a college diploma.

“A degree doesn’t mean more money to me in my field at this point in my career. But it’s valuable in so many other ways,” said Galbut, who brought 32 years of work experience as a registered nurse and health care administrator into the classroom at Barry. “I’ve walked the walk. But getting a degree is a validation of my career. It’s also a good message to my two kids.”

Through Barry’s portfolio program in the School of Adult and Continuing Education (ACE), skilled professionals like Galbut, who received a bachelor’s degree from ACE in 2006 and is pursuing a master’s degree in health administration, can use what they’ve learned from work experience to earn course credit. The Miami Shores resident received 30 credits toward her bachelor’s degree through the program.

Two-thirds of students taking adult and continuing education classes at Barry are age 35 and over – most work full-time. For adults juggling a career and family, the portfolio program can be the push they need to pursue a degree they long desired but found illusive due to their hectic schedules.

Capt. Lisa Albury ’09 spent 23 years as a law enforcement officer in the Winter Haven Police Department. She worked her way up through the ranks with an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Polk Community College and now oversees the investigative division.

Yet, Albury’s supervisor recommended that she get a four-year degree to help her move up further in the department. So she enrolled in Barry’s ACE program in Polk County last year, and described and analyzed her police learning experiences for college credits.

“It worked for me. As officers, we work some really bizarre hours. The [portfolio] program helped me move quickly through my studies,” said Albury, who received a bachelor’s degree in public administration in October.

The portfolio program is designed for adults whose professional experience equates to what’s taught in the classroom. Students can earn up to 30 credits by demonstrating experiential learning in administration, behavioral sciences, communication, humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and special topics areas such as computer sciences and legal studies.

The portfolio is an option for students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, professional studies, information technology, administration and public administration.

“Learning takes place outside of the college environment,” says Dr. Judy Brown, associate dean of Experiential Learning and portfolio director. “We are able to recognize and validate the all that they’ve learned from the work they’ve done.”

Students – in essence – write a professional autobiography and document what they’ve learned using work samples, performance appraisals, certificates, references, projects and detailed accounts of professional tasks and accomplishments. They take a workshop on building a portfolio.

The process of analyzing and evaluating a professional career often involves deep reflection and summoning up memories long since filed away – the boss that made them work weekends or the seemingly endless hours spent at workshops in airport hotels off the interstate.

“The portfolios are fascinating. They are so much more than college credits,” said Brown, who has reviewed thousands of them during her 20-year career at ACE. “In our performance-based society, people don’t get the time to reflect on their lives. It’s very empowering to look at what you’ve done and where you’re going.”

Developing this career retrospective is both time and cost-effective for adult learners. Students pay $1,850 – the equivalent of four credit hours – for up to 30 college credits. The process, which most students complete concurrently with courses once they have attended the portfolio seminar and have received supporting materials and guidance from their academic advisors, can take months or even a year. However, it can still hasten the road to a degree.

“This is a commitment. College is a commitment. We serve adult learners that bring a wealth of information into the classroom and we want to make sure they get the proper credit for it,” Brown said.

Barry adopted the portfolio program nearly 25 years ago when educators throughout the country began looking for ways to help working adults access higher education. They realized that people learned in different ways. Some excelled in a classroom and others learned by doing.

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), a Chicago-based national organization that creates and manages learning strategies for adults, developed the career portfolio as one way to recognize on-the-job learning.

Some academics scoffed (and still do) at awarding college credit to students who hadn’t racked up classroom hours. However, others viewed the change as a means of creating diversity among the student body, generating revenue and adding a layer of experience lacking in the classroom.

“There’s always going to be someone who thinks if you didn’t learn it in my classroom, you didn’t learn it,” said Dr. Denise Hart, director of Adult Education & the Success Program at Farleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey and co-author of “Prior Learning Portfolios: A Representative Collection.” “For us to teach, we need a realistic assessment. Adult learners come with the realism and we fill in the rest with the theoretical component.”

Portfolio programs are now available to students enrolled in colleges and universities throughout the country and abroad for a wide range of degrees.

A 2006 survey of U.S. universities and colleges by CAEL shows that most schools of higher learning accept the concept of portfolios as a substitute for college credit. Nearly 60 percent of accredited schools in the country have adopted portfolios or some method of assessment of on-the-job learning, according to the survey.

Portfolios have helped thousands of working adults fulfill a lifelong dream. But for some, the portfolio remains as useful after graduation as it was while completing their degree.

“I hold on to it because it has a lot of value to me,” said Maj. Mark Jeter ’00, a top officer with the Miami-Dade Police Department who earned his bachelor’s in public administration. “I add to [my portfolio] all the time so I can keep track of my accomplishments and trainings. It’s a résumé builder for the future.”