Availability, Use and Value of Prior Learning Assessment within Community Colleges, qualitative, quantitative

Publication data:

  • Author(s):
    • Brigham, C
    • Klein-Collins, R
  • Date:
  • Country:
    United States of America
  • Document Type:
  • Keywords:
    community colleges, Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, CAEL, academic credit, survey, colleges, PLA, Prior learning assessment, prior learning


Abstract:The national imperative to improve postsecondary degree completion has led to various innovations within colleges and universities to improve student retention and academic success, particularly of non-traditional learners. One innovation that has been in use since the 1970s, but is often under-promoted and under-utilized within institutions, is Prior Learning Assessment, or PLA. PLA is the process by which many colleges evaluate for academic credit the college-level knowledge and skills an individual has gained outside of the classroom, including from employment (e.g., on-the-job training, employer-developed training), military training/service, travel, hobbies, civic activities and volunteer service. In 2010, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) conducted an exploratory study of PLA in community colleges. Subjects included community colleges involved in postsecondary success initiatives such as the Applied Baccalaureate program and the Achieving the Dream initiative, as well as community colleges in states with robust career pathways initiatives. CAEL supplemented the survey responses with phone interviews with 15 institutional representatives. The purpose of this study was to learn more about the availability and use of PLA within these colleges. The online survey was distributed nationally in Spring 2010 and was completed by 88 respondents, 81 of whom identified themselves by institutional name, and for whom the researchers could therefore discern a physical location. The respondents for whom the researchers have names represent 20 different states: Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington. From 88 individual respondents, CAEL learned the following about PLA in community colleges: (1) Community colleges are largely familiar with PLA and most of the respondents said that their institution offers it already; (2) Although PLA is an official offering in most respondents' institutions, it is not used by large numbers of students at these institutions; (3) Community colleges see a lot of potential demand for PLA yet do not have plans to expand their offerings; and (4) Most community colleges do not have plans to expand their PLA offerings. The findings of this exploratory study of PLA at select community colleges suggest that even when PLA is widely available in these institutions, it may not be used for all populations that could be taking advantage of it. In particular, the many non-traditional students who come to community colleges with prior learning--such as technical skills learned in the workplace--may not be receiving credit for the college-level learning that they already have.[Author Abstract]

Link to Publication: