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Free Resource Kit to Make Credit for Prior Learning Work for Your Postsecondary Institution & Your Students

Learning happens in a classroom, and also in a workplace. It happens in a lecture hall, and also in an office building, in a fire station, or at a factory. It happens in a study group, and also on a military base in a hospital, or even in a living room.

It's time for all postsecondary institutions to think outside the classroom.

For more than 50 years, CAEL has been the trusted leader on awarding adult learners credit for learning  they've acquired outside the classroom. That's why we're issuing a call: let's make credit for prior learning equitable, accessible, and easy for every single adult learner across the country. That's why we've put together a new collection of free resources for postsecondary leaders like you.

What is Credit for Prior Learning?

Credit for prior learning, or CPL, is a term for various methods that colleges, universities, and other education or training providers use to evaluate learning that has occurred outside of the traditional academic environment. It's also sometimes called prior learning assessment (PLA).

It is used to grant college credit, certification, or advanced standing toward further education or training. Other common terms for this process include prior learning assessment, recognition of prior learning, and recognition of learning.

Credit for prior learning isn't newcolleges and universities have used it for more than 50 years to award college credit for what incoming students already know. Yet CPL is underutilized in higher education, particularly given its powerful benefits.

How Does CPL Work?

Students can earn credit for prior learning by demonstrating college-level knowledge they gained outside the classroom. Working with a college, university, or other training provider, students can earn credit through:



Standardized exams include CLEP, DSST, UExcel exams; institutions can also award credit based on comprehensive exams developed by campus faculty.


Portfolio or other individualized assessment

Faculty award credit as appropriate for evaluation of a student's portfolio or a demonstration of their learning from a variety of experiences and noncredit activities.


Evaluation of noncollege and noncredit programs

Institutions can award credit for training and credentials that meet the learning objectives of a degree program, based on an institution's evaluations or on recommendations provided by national organizations that evaluate training offered by employers or the military.

Why Credit for Prior Learning is a Good Investment and the Right Thing To Do for Adult Learners

Credit for prior learning. Prior learning assessment. Recognition of prior learning. Whatever you call it, valuing and awarding credit for what a student has learned outside the traditional academic environment is an important and powerful tool to support adult learners. The academic argument for CPL is grounded in andragogic principles in that experience is the basis for new learning. An adult learner program needs to value that learning and help the student make important connections between learning and work.

How Does Credit for Prior Learning Help Your Students?


Saves students time and money

On average, adult degree earners with 12 or more CPL credits saved 9 to 14 months. Adult students who earned CPL saved $1,500 to $10,200 in tuition dollars.


More adults graduate & key groups benefit

Overall, adults who earn credit for prior learning are 17% more likely to graduate than adults who do not. The CPL completion benefit is 25% for adults at community colleges, 24% for Hispanic adults, 13% for Black adults, and 19% for Pell Grant recipients.


Empowers adult students by validating them as learners

The CPL process of reflecting on past learning is often a positive experience that improves adult students' confidence in themselves as learners, research shows.

How Does Credit for Prior Learning Help Postsecondary Institutions?

In our conversations with administrators at postsecondary institutions across the country, we hear concerns that CPL/PLA might translate to fewer credits taken, but research proves that's not the case. In fact, there are several ways that institutions can benefit from CPL/PLA.


More students graduate

Adult students who earn CPL credits are 17 percent more likely to complete, compared to those without CPL.


Powerful influence on choice of college

Among students who identify as "likely to enroll," an opportunity to receive CPL strongly influences their decision about where to attend college.


Students enroll in more credits

Adult students who earn CPL persist--they end up taking an average of 17 more course credits from their college compared to students without it.

Loyce's CPL Story

Watch this short video of how the University of Memphis works with students to evaluate what they already know and can do — so that it counts towards a credential.


We know Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) and Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) programs help students succeed, and because 9 out of 10 students miss out on receiving college credit for what they've learned, CAEL's put together a resource kit to support adult learner champions like you.

From our research, we know credit for prior learning is baked into how many colleges and universities do their work. Hundreds have existing CPL programs, including staff trained to administer it. Several states, too, have endorsed the power of CPL, adopting systemwide policies to ensure students have access to earning credit for the knowledge they've acquired outside the college classroom.

So how do we ensure adult students are receiving the credit they're due?

Join the movement to put credit for prior learning on the transcripts of more adults nationwide by signing up below.

CAEL's PLA/CPL Resource Collection for Adult Learner Advocates Like You

Here's what you'll receive when you sign up:

  • A set of CAEL-curated resources to help you be a more effective CPL champion at your postsecondary institution
  • CAEL's quarterly newsletter which highlights popular CPL programs at postsecondary institutions like yours
  • Professional development opportunities and information about the annual CAEL conference to continue to expand
    your skills and connect with other passionate adult learner advocates

Yes, I want to be a CPL Champion! Send Me My Free Resource Kit

Does Your School Already Offer CPL?

Check out our more in-depth resources for schools that currently offer CPL/PLA programs so that you can make your current program even stronger.

Learn More