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Prior Learning Assessments Give N.J. Carpenters the Credit They Deserve

Student Michael Anderson

Michael Anderson Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree in Construction and Facilities Support program student and NCATF union carpenter.

What do a carpentry apprenticeship and credit for prior learning have in common? More than you might think.

Michael Anderson knows that you can have it both ways and that job security is alive and well.

Anderson, who recently enrolled in the Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree in Construction and Facilities Support program at Thomas Edison State University, began his carpentry apprenticeship with the Northeast Carpenters Apprenticeship Training Fund (NCATF) program. That training, and the Thomas Edison State University Prior Learning Review that translated it to credits, ensured that he was midway through his associate degree before he even applied to his academic program. He no longer must make the hard choice between the skilled trades and higher education.

“My current project as a union carpenter is constructing the scaffolding at the Phillips 66 Refinery in Linden, N.J. My day consists of loading and transporting material to a specific unit and assembling the scaffolding so that other trades can access a site location not reachable by a hydraulic lift,” said Anderson, a Hudson County, N.J., resident.

Anderson’s NCATF apprenticeship training in safety, construction methods, materials handling and fieldwork – among other trade disciplines – were evaluated by Thomas Edison State University’s (TESU) Office of Professional Learning Reviews team and applied toward his degree program. An influx of grant money from the state of New Jersey will help him defray his tuition costs.

The University’s Office of Professional Learning Reviews identified up to 34 credits toward a degree at TESU for those completing the Northeast Carpenters Apprentice Training Program. TESU has had a decades-long association with the assessment of prior learning, assessing on-the-job training for credit and an array of learning pathways that reduce costs and accelerate degree completion for its students. The institution awards more than 65,000 college credits to students for prior learning annually, with each TESU student earning an average of 38 credits toward their degree by leveraging prior learning options.

“The university has evaluated workplace training programs through prior learning review across a multitude of industries, and we are proud to play such a significant role as more and more employers and their staff are finding value in this pathway,” noted Dr. Merodie A. Hancock, President of TESU. “Mr. Anderson is a great example of this win-win approach.”

Anderson and fellow NCATF apprenticeship program completers were supported by a NJ PLACE grant through the N.J. Department of Labor and Workforce Development initiative that commingles apprenticeships, on-the-job training and college-level learning into accredited degree pathways. TESU was the sole higher education institution in the state to be awarded the $849,000 NJ PLACE grant in July 2021 to support 100 student-apprentices like Anderson in completing a college degree.

“Ours is a comprehensive, five-year apprenticeship program that provides future job security,” said Anderson. “There are a lot of options in being a union carpenter and in having the training NCATF provides. If I were to get laid off from my job with the scaffolding company I work for, I could likely find work quickly with a concrete contractor or an interior systems firm.”

Anderson has good reason to be optimistic. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 90,000 job openings for carpenters are projected each year, on average, over the coming decade largely due to an anticipated wave of retirements from the field.

“We respect and value the college-level learning our students bring to their degree programs. The assessment of prior learning and recognition that college-level learning occurs in diverse settings is at the heart of what we do,” said Dr. Jeffrey S. Harmon, vice provost for Strategic Initiatives and Institutional Effectiveness at the University. “We are eager to continue our work with the state of New Jersey and beyond in translating apprenticeship and workplace training to college credits leading toward a degree. Our expertise with prior learning is an important mainstay in our relationship with students, their employers, our educational partners and the state’s workforce.”

Thus far, the university has partnered with four U.S. Department of Labor apprenticeship programs in New Jersey: the Northeast Carpenter Apprenticeship Training Fund; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 269; Eastern Millwork; and the National Elevator Industry Education Program in the NJ PLACE initiative.

To learn more about earning credit for what you already know, visit