How College Students Can Use PLA Credit to Graduate Faster

Aug 08, 2011

PLA, or Prior Learning Assessment, offers a way for college students - especially those returning to school later in life - to gain course credit for knowledge they already possess. That can provide a real help to students who worry about not having enough time or money to complete their degree program. In fact, a 2010 study conducted by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) has shown that PLA has major correlation with earning a degree. How can students obtain PLA credit?

By Eric Garneau

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PLA Evaluation Methods

Colleges have several different means of evaluating students' prior knowledge and abilities available to them. According to CAEL's study, many schools support multiple ways of granting credit, although certain types of PLA assessment take less work on the part of administrators than others. For instance, standardized tests are fairly simple to process, while portfolio evaluation is more involved and requires more individualized effort from the school in question.

Standardized Exams

Nearly all the schools CAEL surveyed that supported PLA credit did so in the form of standardized tests (94% in total). Exams like AP, CLEP and DSST tests provide a relatively hassle-free (and cheaper) way for students to show proficiency in a number of subjects. If they score well, they won't have to re-learn those subjects in college. Testing organizations offer college-approved exams in over 30 disciplines, giving students a variety of credentialing options. Though college students of all ages can take advantage of these tests, CAEL specifically highlights their value for mid-life learners, who may have picked up significant knowledge from career experiences.

Portfolio Assessment

Statistically, the second most popular form of PLA found by CAEL (88%) was portfolio assessment, which seemed to be preferred by many administrators over all other options. Though a more time-consuming process, having experts examine students' career work output provides a deeper understanding of that student's knowledge and potential. It also allows that student to become more engaged with his or her education, due mostly to the positive reinforcement and incredibly specific feedback garnered during the evaluation.

ACE-evaluated Programs

ACE, or the American Council on Education, offers several forms of credential evaluation for students who've accrued either significant corporate or military experience. According to CAEL, around 80% of schools in their study accepted these programs for PLA credit.

Institutional Programs

Finally, CAEL reported that around 64% of schools in their study had their own methods of granting PLA credit. What these programs entail varies from school to school, but they could include training courses or their own examinations. Interested students should contact their institutions for more information.

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