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Goal of initiative is to increase degree completion for millions of nontraditional learners

University of Maryland University College (UMUC) is one of 25 colleges and universities that have joined an alternative credit consortium organized by the American Council on Education (ACE) to create a more flexible pathway toward a college degree for millions of nontraditional learners.

As a member of the consortium and as part of the pilot project to launch the initiative, UMUC has agreed to accept all or most of the transfer credit sought by students who successfully complete any of a selected pool of about 100 low-cost or no-cost lower division general education online courses. UMUC will also help identify the sources, criteria, and quality of the courses.

"We know as a country that we are not educating enough people," said Marie Cini, UMUC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. "UMUC's mission is to provide low-cost, quality higher education to adult students who often struggle to complete a degree because they are often juggling work and family. Working adults will be better served with increased access and affordability and this project directly addresses those challenges."

In addition to UMUC, the consortium includes a diverse group of four-year and two-year, public and private, nonprofit and for-profit colleges and universities that also have a strong commitment to access and attainment and serving nontraditional learners.

Participating institutions have agreed to provide anonymized data to ACE regarding the amount of credit each accepts, as well as progress and success rates of students transferring.

This initiative is generously supported by a $1.89 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its initial focus will be on the more than 31 million adults who have completed some postsecondary coursework but lack a degree or credential. Many of these individuals are low-income and the first in their families to take college-level classes. The findings from the initiative are expected to apply to younger students in this population as well.

"The institutions serving in this pilot project will play a valuable role in helping enhance the work we have been doing for many years in developing quality mechanisms for determining the creditworthiness of education, training, and life experiences outside of a formal higher education classroom setting," said ACE president Molly Corbett Broad. "We very much appreciate this generous investment and the commitment it represents to the effort to provide a more flexible and cost-efficient way to increase the number of Americans able to gain a college degree or credential."

As an additional part of the effort, ACE will expand its current work in the area of college credit recommendations by developing a quality framework and guidelines for issuing recommendations for digital micro-credentials, competency-based programs, and nondegree certificate programs.

"This project will yield multiple and long-lasting benefits to the participating institutions, the wider higher education community, and potentially millions of nontraditional learners," said Deborah Seymour, ACE assistant vice president for education attainment and innovation. "It will help lead to the greater acceptance of alternative forms of credit in a way that ensures quality and encourages more people to complete their postsecondary education."