College Credit for Work Experience Moves in the Capitol: The Power of Member Testimony

At the end of January, the College Credit for Work Experience Bill (HB20-1002) cleared the first legislative hurdle, passing 13-0 out of the House Education Committee. Strong testimony from Colorado Succeeds board member Edie Sonn helped to explain why business leaders should support this policy.

College Credit for Work Experience will allow students and current workforce members to earn postsecondary credit for demonstrating competencies gained through work-related experiences, such as work-based learning in high school through apprenticeships. This would be accomplished by implementing a statewide plan that awards postsecondary academic credit for work experience.

“[We] believe in growing our own workforce of the future,” said Edie Sonn, Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs for Pinnacol Assurance. “We have partnered with CareerWise Colorado since it began and have consistently hosted more apprentices than any other Colorado employer.”

Innovative employers across Colorado, such as Pinnacol Assurance and Frontier Airlines, are also making this model work in spite of the obstacles that can make it difficult for students to participate in and complete work-based learning.

“This year marks our third cohort: 21 youth who work in a variety of business units, including information services, project management, underwriting, and many others. However, we run into numerous obstacles: scheduling, seat-time restrictions, transportation, and helping our students navigate their apprenticeship work while also completing their postsecondary coursework,” said Sonn.

However, these challenges are ripe with opportunities to provide better support. Business leaders and coalition partners are coming together to develop real solutions and ensure that their efforts do not fall to the wayside. The College Credit for Work Experience bill would enable students to earn postsecondary academic credit by demonstrating competencies learned through their work-based learning.

“[College Credit for Work Experience] would allow our apprentices to earn postsecondary academic credit by demonstrating competencies learned through their apprenticeship instead of only by attending courses outside of the workplace,” said Sonn. “The learning that occurs inside the workplace should be fully leveraged. The experience, when it can be demonstrated, should count towards a student’s eventual academic credentials.”

Currently, the open letter for the College Credit for Work Experience bill has over 200 signatures from members of Colorado Succeeds, apprenticeship partners with CareerWise Colorado, and key stakeholders. Now is the time for change. The latest report from the Department of Higher Education includes concerning rates of postsecondary attainment – even after six years, only 57 students out of 100 will graduate.

Supporting and passing College Credit for Work Experience is right for Colorado and gets us one step closer to the rising tide that lifts all ships.

“If students can truly pursue both college and career pathways concurrently, we all win,” said Sonn.

The bill now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.

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Kelly Caufield