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CAEL Pathways Blog

CAEL's New Study Answers the Question: What Happens When Learning Counts?

What happens when learning counts? New study says, good things for adult learnersSeveral things, actually. Prior learning assessment (PLA) provides a way for adult students to accelerate their degree completion as well as create a new way to engage in the learning process. While this may be old news for some-seven years ago, CAEL's Fueling the Race to Postsecondary Success: A 48-Institution Study of Prior Learning Assessment and Adult Student Outcomes found that adult students with PLA credit were two and a half times more likely to have earned a postsecondary degree than similar students with no PLA credit. Since then, replication studies have found the same results and researchers have documented other benefits to PLA such as increased self-confidence and motivation.

It is no wonder, then, that colleges, universities and state systems have expanded their PLA offerings to better reach adult students. The growing interest in PLA prompted CAEL to revisit the relationship between PLA and adult student academic outcomes by examining the experience that students have had with LearningCounts, CAEL's online portfolio assessment service.

Although the program is still in its early years, we wanted to know how students who earned PLA credit through LearningCounts have fared academically after engaging with the service. We also wanted to know if there were any additional benefits of the portfolio process.

This new report, What Happens When Learning Counts? - Measuring the Benefits of Prior Learning Assessment for the Adult Learner, showcases the findings of our study. We examined enrollment patterns and degree completion of former LearningCounts students using data available through the National Student Clearinghouse and supplemented by the perspectives of the students through survey responses. We found that students with the highest level of engagement with LearningCounts (i.e., those who earned portfolio credits) had significantly better degree completion and overall persistence rates than students who had lower levels of engagement and who did not earn portfolio credit.

The findings of this study show that PLA can be a valuable resource for adult learners to persist towards and earn their degrees. They may also encourage other institutions to consider offering PLA as a way to propel students forward in their educational journeys.

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