'Life experience' programs are becoming increasingly common and are currently available at most accredited online colleges.

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Not all learning happens in the classroom, and academic courses combined with hands-on industry experience is often the perfect recipe for a person who is ready to enter a new job and hit the ground running. Recognizing this, many colleges and universities now offer programs that allow students to participate in industry training in exchange for academic credit.

“Alternative forms of learning outside the traditional classroom experience have not always been recognized in higher education” explains Scott Carnz, Ed.D., Provost at City University of Seattle, which offers academic credit for industry training at companies including Boeing, American Bankers Association and Starbucks.

In fact, “life experience” programs are becoming increasingly common and are currently available at most accredited online colleges. It’s especially valuable in online programs, because the average age of students pursuing a B.A. online is 36 and the average age of those pursuing a master’s degree online is 40. In short, these students have already spent time in the workforce and acquired college-level knowledge through reading, hobbies and life experiences. The ability to transfer industry training into academic credit makes an online degree much more affordable — and when students can pursue education without racking up debt, it allows a more diverse group of individuals to enroll.

Adult learners and “nontraditional” students are a growing segment of the college population. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of college students aged 25 through 34 increased by 35% between 2001 and 2015.

These students enter college with a great deal of “real world” knowledge and experience that 18-year-olds simply don’t have. That’s why CityU and other academic institutions have adjusted their model — it allows these nontraditional students to get the most out of their college experience.

There’s also the reality that many of these students simply can’t afford to stop working entirely while pursuing a degree — and many people are understandably hesitant to balance a full-time job and a full course load. After all, we want to give 100% to all our academic and professional endeavors. This concern could prevent many from pursuing education, which is why it’s so important that colleges are taking this into account and developing programs that allow students to get academic credit for the hours they spend on the job.

But getting academic credit for industry training isn’t simply a matter of convenience — it’s also beneficial to students and provides them with a well-rounded education that they wouldn’t get if their college experience was limited to the classroom.

“While you might be able to ace a class in a certain subject area, doing it in a true working environment gives you the ability to put those skills to the test,” Carnz says. He adds that industry training accomplishes two key things: “First, it makes sure that you’ve really acquired [the skills] and you’re able to do whatever it is that you’re learning. Second, it provides some context about why what you’re learning is useful and how it might apply to other aspects of your job or other aspects of your coursework.”

It’s a myth that classrooms are the only place we can learn. This in no way diminishes the value and importance of academic courses and incredible professors — it simply broadens the scope of what we recognize as educational experiences and preparation for future careers. And in a world where students of all ages and from all walks of life are searching for options that allow them to balance their time on the job and in the classroom, turning industry training into academic credit is an effective way to simultaneously increase diversity in the workforce and send well-prepared employees into the industry of their choosing.

City University of Seattle is a private nonprofit university accredited through the doctoral level. It has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the Top 50 in the country for its online bachelor’s degree programs for seven consecutive years.