Prior Learning Assessment Services

To retain and graduate more adult students, Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)—awarding college credit for college-level learning from work and life experience—should be standard practice at your college or university. Turn to the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) for help developing and optimizing your program. Since 1974, we have created standards for awarding college credit through assessment, trained faculty evaluators, and conducted research on the outcomes of these efforts.

CAEL also offers its own PLA assessment service available to colleges and universities through LearningCounts.


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What Is Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)?

Prior Learning Assessment is a term used to describe learning gained outside a traditional academic environment. Put another way, it’s learning and knowledge your students acquire while living their lives: working, participating in employer training programs, serving in the military, studying independently, volunteering or doing community service, and studying open source courseware.

In short, PLA is the evaluation and assessment of an individual’s life learning for college credit, certification, or advanced standing toward further education or training.

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How PLA Contributes to Academic Success

CAEL recently conducted a study on PLA and adult student outcomes. The study examined data on 62,475 adult students at 48 colleges and universities across the country. CAEL found that graduation rates are two and a half times higher for students with PLA credit. PLA students also had higher persistence rates and a faster time to degree completion.

View Report:
Executive Summary
Full Report

Check Research & Publications for more research on PLA. 
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Join the LearningCounts Affiliated or Featured Provider Networks

Give your institution the instant capacity to recruit and retain more adult students by providing them with opportunities to earn credit using PLA. We offer the following services through LearningCounts:

  • Free PLA advising to students
  • Online course in PLA (CAEL 100 or Do-It-Yourself)
  • Access to an extensive faculty roster, trained according to CAEL standards
  • Review of learning experiences by faculty experts for college-level equivalency
  • Free Prior Learning Credit Predictor to facilitate student engagement
  • Archived electronic record of student's history of prior learning

To learn how to create their portfolios, students have a choice between a self-paced non-credit course (Do-It-Yourself), or an instructor-led six-week 3 credit course worth 3 college credits (CAEL 100). Students will incur the following fees:

  • Tuition for CAEL 100 is $895 and is completed with a small cohort in six weeks. Your passing grade in the course is worth 3 lower division credits, and the portfolio you complete during the class could also be worth 3 credits. Download the syllabus.
  • Tuition for DIY is $149. It doesn’t have an instructor and can be completed at your own pace. This does not include any portfolio assessments. All portfolios must be purchased separately after completion of the course. Download the syllabus.
  • Each Portfolio Review is $125, the equivalence of one college course (3 credits).
Becoming an Affiliate is easy. Download an application and return to us via fax or email.

Want more features and administrative benefits? Become a part of our Featured Network to get full-service PLA solutions that yield revenue with little to no operating cost.

Featured Network institutions receive the benefit of a full-service PLA department. We’ll handle the
student registration process, and train your advisors to identify good PLA candidates. Your institution sets the fee for course tuition and portfolio assessment, and LearningCounts invoices you directly. So beyond giving your students access to innovative and flexible means of earning credit at your college or university, you also have increased revenue opportunity with little to no operating cost. CAEL members qualify for Featured Network benefits with an additional annual service fee.

In addition to the services listed above, Featured Network members receive:
  • Option to list both LearningCounts portfolio development courses in their academic catalogs.
  • Flexibility to set tuition and assessment rates for LearningCounts services to students.
  • Featured Network members are invoiced for these services by LearningCounts and have the ability to earn revenue on these services.
  • Marketing Toolkits and consulting services to customize marketing materials and strategies.
  • Ability to transcribe all LearningCounts credits directly on Featured Network transcripts.
  • Training of advisors, admissions and other appropriate departments via webinar (or in-person for an additional fee).
  • Logo, contact information, and direclty linked URL as a Featured College or University on the LearningCounts website.
Contact us if you are interested in our Featured Network program.
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There Are Multiple Approaches to PLA

Prior Learning Assessment is not just one method or tool. PLA includes options such as:
  • Portfolio-based Assessments—Evaluations of student portfolios such as those done through CAEL’s service,
  • American Council on Education (ACE) Guides—Published credit recommendations for formal instructional programs offered by non-collegiate agencies, both civilian employers and the military
  • Advanced Placement (AP) Exams—A series of tests developed by the College Board initially for AP High School courses, including 34 exams in 19 subject areas
  • College Level Examination Program (CLEP) Exams—Tests of college material offered by the College Board
  • DSST Credit by Exam Program—Formerly known as the DANTES Program, owned and administered by Prometric, tests knowledge of both lower-level and upper-level college material through 38 exams
  • Excelsior College Examination Program—Formerly, Regents College Exams or ACT/PEP Exams, offered by Excelsior College, NY
  • UExcel Credit by Exam Program—tests knowledge of lower-level college material; awarded Excelsior College credit can be transferred to other colleges and universities
  • National College Credit Recommendation Service—(formerly known as National PONSI) evaluates learning experiences for noncollegiate organizations
  • Evaluation of Local Training—Program evaluations done by individual colleges of non-collegiate instructional programs
  • Challenge Exams—Local tests developed by a college to verify learning achievement
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Follow the Ten Standards for Assessing Learning

To determine whether to award college credit to students for prior learning, follow these standards:

  1. Credit or its equivalent should be awarded only for learning, and not for experience.
  2. Assessment should be based on standards and criteria for the level of acceptable learning that are both agreed upon and made public.
  3. Assessment should be treated as an integral part of learning, not separate from it, and should be based on an understanding of learning processes.
  4. The determination of credit awards and competence levels must be made by appropriate subject matter and academic or credentialing experts.
  5. Credit or other credentialing should be appropriate to the context in which it is awarded and accepted.
  6. If awards are for credit, transcript entries should clearly describe what learning is being recognized and should be monitored to avoid giving credit twice for the same learning.
  7. Policies, procedures, and criteria applied to assessment, including provision for appeal, should be fully disclosed and prominently available to all parties involved in the assessment process.
  8. Fees charged for assessment should be based on the services performed in the process and not determined by the amount of credit awarded.
  9. All personnel involved in the assessment of learning should pursue and receive adequate training and continuing professional development for the functions they perform.
  10. Assessment programs should be regularly monitored, reviewed, evaluated, and revised as needed to reflect changes in the needs being served, the purposes being met, and the state of the assessment arts.

Taken from Assessing Learning: Standards, Principles, and Procedures (Second Edition)
By Morry Fiddler, Catherine Marienau, and Urban Whitaker, 2006. Chicago, Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

View More PLA Publications
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Prepare Faculty and Administrators with PLA Professional Development

With increased emphasis on college completion and adult learners, PLA can be a tool to help adult learners succeed and graduate. If your institution is paying more attention to adult learners, PLA professional development can keep you in the know, and help you train others to provide this service to students.

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Design Effective Programs and Policies with PLA Consulting

It may not always be clear what the next step—or first step—is when building or enhancing a PLA program at your institution. CAEL can provide the strategic direction you need, help create or improve your PLA policies, and provide training for your faculty on how to correctly assess prior learning.

Contact us to discuss your PLA goals.