Credit by exam: the missing piece in the college puzzle helps students reduce expenses

If you are a 21st century student, you may be facing concerns over the rising cost of a college degree and the prospect of future college debt. You may be wondering, can I achieve my education goals and still find a way to contain costs? Meanwhile, President Obama is calling for increased degree completion as an element of workforce development.

For many college students, one solution may be a sleeping giant: credit by examination, a valid and cost-effective means of earning credit for college-level knowledge. For many years, the military has promoted credit-by-examination programs among service members pursuing higher education. For bright high school students taking advanced courses, related exams can help them get a head start on college credit. But college-level exams are widely available for any aspiring college student – not just for advanced high schoolers and military members.

Consider this: Based on a typical full-time academic year, the College Board’s data indicates that the cost for a three-credit, semester-long course at a four-year institution can range between $ 752 per credit at a public college and $ 2,730 per credit at private, nonprofit colleges. However, the cost of an examination covering the same subject area as a three-credit classroom course can cost as little as $ 95.

So what is credit by exam, and how do you earn it? Credit by exam measures your subject area knowledge gained through traditional classroom study, through independent study or on the job as part of your career and professional training. You can also use a variety of online academic resources to study for exams including high quality, university-level educational materials called open courseware. These subject matter tests are available through such programs as Excelsior College Examinations (ECEs), UExcel, CLEP and DSST and, typically, each program offers corresponding study guides. The tests are administered at thousands of secure, proctored testing centers in the U.S. and around the world.

As a student consumer, it’s important to make sure the exam program you choose has been reviewed by the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT), which provides course equivalency information to facilitate college credit award decisions. ACE CREDIT is an important stamp of approval for exams and coursework taken outside of traditional degree programs. In addition, you may also want to become familiar with the differences among test programs: ECEs, for instance, are the only exams developed and administered by an accredited college, and ECE results are reported as a letter grade on a college transcript.

“Higher education costs are front and center in our national education discussions, and independent study leading to credit-by-exam is a lesser-known way of helping to address this issue,” says Dr. Patrick Jones, vice provost at Excelsior College. “Students who meet the exam challenge can also advance more quickly through their chosen degree program.”

A student who decides to tackle four examinations – over several months, several years or during summers – can trim a semester or more from his or her college career. For long-term planning purposes, that’s the equivalent of thousands of dollars neither spent nor borrowed. It’s also evidence of your personal discipline and academic independence.

Credit-by-exam programs can benefit colleges and universities as well. Traditional institutions facing overcrowding or faculty shortages can use credit by examination as a tool to retain students and assist them in degree completion. Ultimately, such out-of-the-box solutions can benefit you, the student, and the institutions committed to your success. Now more than ever, credit-by-exam programs are increasingly important alongside traditional and online course work as a valid means of demonstrating your college-level knowledge.