Nontraditional students: 2 tools to help them succeed

July 1, 2014
  • AACRAO Connect
  • Diversity and Inclusion

How can we do a better job of meeting the needs of adult learners and other nontraditional students while also finding ways to reduce costs? Within the higher education community, a series of innovations are helping nontraditional students complete their educational goals amidst the competing obligations of families, jobs, and budgets.   

Prior learning assessment and competency-based education

These innovations—prior learning assessment (PLA) and competency-based education (CBE)—are shifting the focus from a student’s seat time to the student’s assessed learning outcomes.

Both strategies:

  • Provide ways to recognize and award credit for outside learning.
  • Offer opportunities for students to learn at their own pace.
  • Save money. 

PLA takes place through assessing a student’s experiential and extra-institutional learning in order to award college credit, and can greatly reduce the time and money spent working towards a degree. 

CBE programs focus on a student’s ability to apply their acquired learning, and involve a clearly-defined set of competency expectations as well as rigorous assessments for each student to demonstrate their knowledge.

Learn more

PLA and CBE greatly enhance the academic options and pathways for nontraditional students, but they also raise issues around changes in an institution’s faculty, degree requirements, and assessments. 

Registrars and other student-support staff can take an active role in implementing these innovative programs. Assessment’s New Role in Degree Completion: A Registrar’s Primer on Prior Learning and Competency-Based Education offers an introduction to PLA and CBE and points for registrars to consider as they implement them.


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