Prior Learning Assessments (PLA)
There’s no question that many people have earned college credit through learning portfolios, experiential learning, or learning assessments. A Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) can be a way to use highly eclectic, very specialized, or massive amounts of experiences to your advantage. PLA is different from ACE-Evaluated experiences because, in a PLA, you must prove your experiences to be credit-worthy
by demonstrating college-level learning (not just time served), and submit them to your college for evaluation. Many colleges have PLA policy on their website, so you can usually find out if anyone in your area allows credit this way. I’m not against PLAs in theory. However, there are some things to understand about the limits of
PLA, and we’ll explore those briefly.
Adult Learner Market: There is no question that colleges advertise and market PLA credit to adult learners with strong career experiences who lack a degree. The idea behind the program is to turn your 10+ years of strong career success into college credit. This works well for adults but isn’t applicable to high school students, many of whom haven’t any work history.
Transfer: PLA credit is best used when the college that awards it is also the college you will earn a degree from. PLA credit doesn’t transfer well, and many colleges have a specific written policy stating that they do not accept credit of this type (even if it is on your transcript).
Time Served vs. Competency: One important nuance of PLA credit is that simply “being” a violinist for 10 years, or owning a business for 5 isn’t enough to earn college credit. The time in the activity isn’t what is measured, rather you’ll create a portfolio to demonstrate that you have met objectives or achieved competency of certain skills. Documenting how you have met the objectives or achieved the competence is done through the assembly of a portfolio, videos, written work, and other means. It is possible to have extensive experience in a subject without necessarily having me the standard for college credit.
You may wonder when a high school student could use PLA to earn college credit. Let’s assume your teen works as a volunteer at the local zoo. They spend their time cleaning cages and feeding animals, but they also teach classes, give live demonstrations, host tours, and stock the gift shop. Your teen hopes to major in biology eventually. If you can find a college level course that aligns with the skills demonstrated here, you might be able to create a college credit PLA. In this case, you wouldn’t find courses in science or zoology to include these experiences, but you would find courses in customer service that are a close match. Preparing a PLA for a business course called “Essentials of Customer Service” might be a great match, and may generate elective credit in a biology degree later.
Something else to consider, if your PLA is in a subject that is not part of your major, it may not pay off. Why? Because the credit is going to be pushed down into either lower level credit (earned cheaply and quickly by other means) or your elective category, which in many cases, could have been accomplished in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost with a simple CLEP exam. Many schools use PLA as their carrot, to attract you to their program. While more often it is adults who are drawn to this option, be aware that PLA may not work best for everyone, and be sure to understand all of the requirements before enrolling. Also, before making a decision, evaluate other potential ways to earn the same credit, and proceed from there.
When is a Prior Learning Assessment most valuable? When the content is part of your major and or may include upper-level credit. In almost every case, upper-level credit is the most expensive to obtain, so if you think you might have prior learning that can demonstrate your creditworthiness, you should go for it! If your teen possesses real skills in any of these areas, consider asking your college how they can apply for a Prior Learning Assessment.
Note: colleges may not give formal advice about assembling a portfolio or evaluate a portfolio for college credit unless or until your teen is accepted for admission by the college.
Photography or Photojournalism
Film and Cinema
Music, especially performance
Art, especially studio art
Graphic Art, especially digital
Cooking / Restaurant Management
Theater / Acting
Politics / Government
Radio / Television
Business, especially small business
This content is reprinted from Chapter 2 of Homeschooling for College Credit 2nd Edition.