Prior Learning Assessment
Turn your experience and existing knowledge into college credit through Prior Learning Assessment.
Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is a term used to describe college-level learning that has been acquired outside of the traditional classroom. These are the things you learn through just living your life: through performing your job, participating in training programs at work, serving in the military, doing volunteer or community service, and even studying through open online courses. PLA describes the formal process of evaluating and assessing this “life learning” to assign college credit, certification, or advanced standing toward further education.
Certifying internal training programs for college credit can also offer additional incentives to current employees and act as a great recruitment tool for future employees.
Prior Learning Assessment can be done using different tools and methods; it’s not just one standard test or process. This can be confusing when you are exploring your options. Some colleges and universities may use some methods and not others.
General Types of PLA You May See Offered:
- Portfolio: Credit is awarded based on the evaluation of a student portfolio, which can be developed through an actual course offered by an institution or with the guidance of a faculty or staff member.
- American Council on Education (ACE) Guides: Official credit recommendations for formal instructional programs offered by agencies or bodies that are not colleges or universities, including civilian employers and the military. This is literally an assignment of the credit that should be awarded for completing a training program, for example, through the military.
- Advanced Placement (AP) Exams: A series of tests developed by the College Board (initially for AP High School courses) which includes 34 exams in 19 subject areas. Passing these exams will typically allow adult students to skip entry level required courses.
- College Level Examination Program (CLEP) Exams: Tests of college material offered by the College Board, as a way of evaluating whether the student has college level learning from other experiences.
- DSST Credit by Exam Program: Formerly known as the DANTES Program and owned and administered by Prometric, this program tests knowledge of both lower-level and upper-level college material through 38 different exams.
- Excelsior College Examination Program: Formerly the Regents College Exams or ACT/PEP Exams, these tests are offered by Excelsior College in New York and may be transferrable to other colleges and universities.
- UExcel Credit by Exam Program: This program tests knowledge of lower-level college material. It is awarded Excelsior College credit which can be transferred to other colleges and universities.
- National College Credit Recommendation Service (formerly known as National PONSI): This program evaluates learning experiences for non-collegiate organizations to help determine recommended credits.
- Evaluation of Local Training: Program evaluations done by individual colleges of non-collegiate instructional programs, such as those offered by private employers or industry partnerships.
- Challenge Exams: These are tests developed by a specific college or university to verify learning achievement for credit purposes.
LearningCounts.org – Earn college credit for what you already know. This resource is ideal for those who already have significant college-level learning from job training, work experience, military experience, or other experiences. The site also offers a prior learning credit predictor to help you determine how much college credit you may be able to earn.
The Maine Educational Opportunity Center (MEOC) is a community-service program providing post-secondary educational planning information and assistance to adults of a low-income and/or first generation background. All services are free.
PLA is not a one-size fits all solution and may not be the best fit for all students.
Students most likely to be successful in using PLA to complete their degree:
- Have 5 years or more of work experience, breadth/depth
- Have taken a college course before
- Strong comfort level with computers and familiarity and online technologies
- Have strong time management skills and can work independently
- Understand the time commitment involved in building a portfolio
- Have selected a portfolio development course with advising assistance
- Have strong writing skills
- Have a degree plan (no duplicate courses) and understands how PLA will apply or not) to her/his degree requirements