Issue Spotlight: Credit for Prior Learning

Credit for Prior Learning: Helping Students Complete Degrees More Efficiently and Affordably

Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) allows students to earn credit for learning experiences that take place outside the classroom and are the equivalent of college-level work. As a result, students can streamline the educational pathway, avoid redundant or unnecessary courses, and save tuition dollars.

CPL experiences vary, and institutions can assess CPL experiences through exams, individual portfolio reviews, or sponsored programs, such as College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams, Advanced Placement exams, DSST, ACE Military Training and Occupational Review, and ACE Credit Review. 

For example, a student in a criminal justice program might earn credit for portions of training in the armed service and/or having successfully completed a police academy program. A student in a chemistry program could earn course credit for successfully completing an Advanced Placement chemistry course and passing the exam in high school. An adult returning student in a health sciences program who previously worked as an EMT could earn course credit for passing a relevant CLEP exam. 

To offer CPL to students, WSCUC institutions must first establish guidelines and internal policies for CPL and then raise awareness of CPL opportunities for students. WSCUC requires institutions to abide by three policies that pertain to CPL:

In addition to adhering to the WSCUC policies, institutions must also develop their own CPL policies that support educational quality and rigor, and ensure the learning experiences are relevant to targeted programs and courses.

At WSCUC, we embrace the Joint Statement on the Transfer and Award of Credit from the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), and the American Council on Education (ACE). This document clarifies that each institution is responsible for its own policies regarding transfer credit and that they are encouraged to review and revise these policies to be most fair, equitable, and considerate of new sources of learning and assessment.

There is great diversity in the prevalence and types of CPL policies and programs within the WSCUC region. Dominican University of California, for example, offers multiple options for prior learning assessment. Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is the process whereby an institution will assess student learning outside the classroom, whereas CPL refers to what might happen after the assessment when the learning is found to be worth academic credit. Domincan University’s options include challenge exams, standardized tests, ways to earn credit for job or military training, ACE credit review, and a well-developed portfolio process. 

WSCUC values innovation and encourages member institutions to explore new and additional CPL opportunities for students, especially if these programs can help improve affordability and graduation rates.

Lori Williams, PhD, is a vice president at the WASC Senior College and University (WSCUC). Previously, Lori served as provost and ALO at Ashford University in San Diego.

WASC News: