Education

New Jersey pilots partnership to help residents earn free credit at 3 colleges

Dive Brief:

  • The state of New Jersey announced Monday it is partnering with nonprofit course provider Modern States to allow some residents to earn college credit for free.
  • Centenary University, Mercer County Community College and Thomas Edison State University are taking part in the pilot. The schools don’t pay to participate.
  • State officials say the initiative will help New Jersey reach its goal of having 65% of all working-age adults earn a “high-quality” degree or credential by 2025.

Dive Insight:

New Jersey has that goal within its sights. Nearly 51% of New Jersey residents ages 25 to 64 had an associate degree or higher in 2019, and another 6% had a short-term credential, according to data from the Lumina Foundation. Combined, that puts the state a few percentage points ahead of the national average for degree attainment.

However, attainment rates are uneven across the state, and they vary widely based on race and ethnicity. Nearly 80% of Asian and Pacific Islander residents and 57% of White residents had at least an associate degree in the age group Lumina tracked. Meanwhile, around 35% of both African American and American Indian residents and 28% of Hispanic residents had that degree or higher. 

New Jersey officials hope the Modern States partnership will expand higher education access statewide, especially for adult learners. The state also enshrined its free community college program in law earlier this year.

Modern States provides free courses and materials that help people prepare for exams that could earn them college credit ahead of enrolling, such as the College Board’s College-Level Examination Program, or CLEP. Qualifying students can request a voucher to cover the cost of the tests. It also works with New York City high schools and Michigan’s labor department as well as colleges including the State University of New York’s Empire State College and Purdue University.

The organization is working with the colleges in New Jersey’s pilot to help people get ready for the CLEP exams. These tests are a form of prior learning assessments, which nontraditional students can use to earn college credit for their past work and learning experiences. Participating colleges will advertise the program to current and prospective students, while Modern States will cover fees for the first 1,000 CLEP exams, a Modern States spokesperson said in an email.

When students register, “they will be reminded to confirm which courses will be accepted for credit” at their current or prospective college in New Jersey, a spokesperson for the state’s higher education office said in an email. The pilot institutions will also promote which Modern States courses they would accept for transfer and how that process works. 

Adult learners who get credit for prior learning are more likely to complete a credential, according to research by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.

Many states are trying to figure out how to help more of their residents earn a postsecondary credential, said Courtney Brown, vice president of impact and planning at the Lumina Foundation. 

“I applaud New Jersey in just thinking about new and alternative ways … to find more affordable pathways for their students,” Brown said, noting the schools should also think about how to ensure the participating students can complete a credential.

Officials from MCCC and Thomas Edison said the schools already accept CLEP credits. An MCCC spokesperson said in an email that the partnership is in part a way to help support nontraditional students. Additionally, the Modern States partnership removes a key financial obstacle for students seeking these credits, a Thomas Edison spokesperson said in an email.

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