Prior Learning Assessments (PLA) are a part of the higher education that offer rich rewards to all stakeholders, such as students, schools, and businesses. The idea that people learn in many different ways and different places is not new. History shows tradesmen learning a skill and demonstrating knowledge in order to become part of a guild. Today, PLA opportunities recognize prior learning, support students’ higher education efforts, and deliver positive results that can aid in recovery from the recession.
PLA is definitely a factor in better student outcomes, including completion, money and timesavings. The Western Interstate C omission for Higher Education (WICHE) and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) report “PLA Boost” studied records for the period between the academic year 2011-2012 and the end of 2018. Students of all races, ethnicities and income levels who received prior learning credit were more likely to complete college credentials that students who did not receive credit. Adult students who earned PLA credit had a completion rate of 49 percent compared to 27 percent among adults who did not have credit. This completion rate included bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees and certificates. Allowing students to use knowledge they have learned from work and life experiences is valuable in pushing students towards completion, in additional ways.
PLA credits also help students save money, save time and earn more credits. Financial savings range from $1,500 to $10,200, and students save nine to 14 months while earning their degree. Students are not the only ones to realize advantages. Schools also benefit from PLA for students. The time and money savings potential creates a great recruitment and retention tool for schools. The opportunity to help students move ahead quickly creates also encourages students to take an average of 17.6 more credits.
The 2010 CAEL report Fueling the Race to Postsecondary Success showed student success and prompted initiatives to support PLA. It showed that students with PLA credit were two and a half time more likely to complete postsecondary degrees than students without. This success initiated commitments to PLA programs. Many states developed statewide PLA policies. Indiana passed legislation to ensure that state-financial aid would cover PLA assessments. The US Department of Labor required community colleges that were part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training to include PLA.
While PLA is a positive factor that can lead to credential completion, its growth has been slow. The 2020 report shows that during the last 10 years, rates of applying prior learning credits are lower than rates reported in the 2010 report. Only 11 percent of adults earned credit compared to 25 percent in the 2010 report.
PLA is a tool with advantages for students, school and businesses. For students the advantages are clear. Completing attainment faster and with less cost is important for workers seeking skills and knowledge to upgrade their skills and secure employment. Counseling that helps students take advantage of prior learning helps assure that students can realize this advantage. Higher education institutions that award PLA credit to students will attract and retain students, while improving their attainment rates.
The advantage of supporting employees with tuition assistance that includes PLA is an important part of businesses future success. A workforce that can quickly complete a credential to meet new skill requirements is invaluable. As technology rapidly changes, applying workers’ prior knowledge means that new training can happen quickly.
The vice president of policy analysis and research at WICHE, Dr. Patrick Lane, believes that PLA can also be part of the economic recovery from the COVID recession. Only 12 million of the 22 million jobs that were lost have been recovered, he says. “It is clear that even in the best-case scenarios that we will have a lot of dislocated workers needing new and different skills to reengage in the economy,” he said. “These workers have long track records of employment, expertise in the workforce and in many cases, have college-level learning already.” PLA can help them be prepared for work and revitalize the economy.
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