Two perspectives on prior learning assessment

May 1, 2020
  • Transfer and Articulation
  • Transfer Credit Practices
  • Webinars
  • wiche
male and female figures sit back-to-back working on separate computers with various icons floating above their heads

Policies and practices related to recognition of learning, like prior learning assessment (PLA), have the potential to create more efficient pathways for mobility, reduce gaps in quality and in equity attainment, and increase student success and credential completion—especially for adults.  With funding from Lumina Foundation and Strada Education Network, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), along with several national partners including AACRAO, has conducted a landscape analysis over the last year to help policymakers, practitioners, and others understand where PLA has been, where the field is now, and where it is headed in the future and the ways in which policymakers and practitioners can work together to better support student success. This work will culminate in a series of briefs as well as other related products to be released in summer 2020.

AACRAO is excited to have partnered with WICHE in this work because of the longstanding interest AACRAO has in (a) understanding if and how institutions evaluate and award academic credit for prior learning and (b) using that understanding to serve as a professional development resource to help individuals and institutions adopt leading practices and policies for prior learning assessment (PLA) that are driven by student success. Registrars regularly oversee the practice of how credits are recorded in the academic record and how these credits apply towards educational credentials. Registrars are also often at the forefront of helping to shape the institutional policies related to PLA. 

In the brief that AACRAO wrote as part of WICHE’s Recognizing Prior Learning in the 21st Century series, AACRAO designed and deployed a survey to 1000 current college students to better understand their experiences in accessing and earning PLA credit.  In addition, AACRAO administered a survey to its membership to capture institutional PLA practices and policies and opinions on equity, access, and whether or not data is used to understand PLA’s impact on student success. Over 450 U.S. undergraduate, degree-granting institutions participated. 

A sample of the findings and recommendations:

From the student survey, we found that students’ experiences with PLA at their campuses demonstrate that there are many pathways for earning credit for non-classroom experiences, and that most who try are successful in doing so.

The institutions who shared their PLA practices with us have a number of policies and practices in place the support PLA in a positive manner and in alignment with AACRAO’s recommendations. For example, 8 out of 10 U.S. institutions surveyed offer one or more PLA options to students. 

We found that the practice of differentiating PLA credit on the transcript often has negative implications for students who transfer from one institution to another: 65% of institutions reported that they do not accept PLA in transfer.

We also found that few institutions can track participation in PLA back to student demographics, which makes it difficult—if not impossible for some—to conduct any type of assessment of equity.

Join us on May 13 to learn what the data reveals

[Webinar postponed to Summer 2020]

On May 13, 2020, at 2pm EST, Wendy Kilgore, Ph.D., Director of Research, AACRAO and Sarah Leibrandt, PhD, Senior Research Analyst, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education will present their research as well as high-level findings from the landscape analysis including promising strategies, policy and practice barriers, and exemplary ideas that can be scaled.  Participants will leave this webinar with actionable steps they can take back to their institution to think about and improve their PLA policies and practices.  Register now.

The series of briefs, as well as other related products, will be released in summer 2020.  In the meantime, contact Sarah Leibrandt, WICHE, or Wendy Kilgore, AACRAO,, with any questions.


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