Postsecondary institutions that have focused on adult learners have developed a number of strategies and programs to help put learning and credentials within reach. One important strategy is ensuring that adults are not wasting time and money by taking courses in subjects that they have already learned. Adult students, whether just starting college or returning after stopping or dropping out, often have significant college-level learning they have acquired outside of academia. Postsecondary institutions have the option to evaluate that learning for the purpose of awarding credit or otherwise recognizing the learning so that it can count toward a postsecondary degree or other credential. The methods that colleges use to evaluate this learning are typically referred to with terms like prior learning assessment (PLA), credit for prior learning (CPL), or recognition of learning. With funding from Lumina Foundation and Strada Education Network, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) collaborated with more than 70 institutions to research the impact of PLA on adult student outcomes. A primary focus of the analysis was credential completion; examined credentials included bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees and certificates.
Key findings include:
(1) about one in ten (11 per cent) of the entering adult students in the study’s sample earned PLA credit; the number was dominated by students with credit earned through [American Council on Education] ACE credit recommendation for military training and occupations; and the average number of PLA credits earned per student equaled a half-year or more of full-time study;
(2) PLA is indeed associated with better student outcomes; these included higher credential completion, cost savings, and time savings;
(3) PLA has strong potential to be a tool for closing equity gaps in postsecondary achievement, provided PLA is made more accessible to students who could benefit the mos;
(4) adult students saved time and money from earning PLA credit;
(5) because PLA students were more likely to persist and complete, they earned more credits through regular course-taking at their institutions than non-PLA students;
(6) adult students with PLA credit had higher completion rates, for any PLA method used; and
(7) veterans and other service members had high PLA use, along with a significant completion benefit.
The findings from this study point to a number of recommendations for higher education, workforce development, public policy, and future research.