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“Are you experienced?”. Translating Experiential Learning into Credit for Non-Traditional Students Amy Sherman The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL). Why Does College Completion Matter to Our Nation?.

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Are you experienced

“Are you experienced?”

Translating Experiential Learning into Credit for

Non-Traditional Students

Amy Sherman

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL)

Why does college completion matter to our nation
Why Does College Completion Matter to Our Nation?

Source: Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018, Georgetown University, Center for Education and the Workforce, June 2010

  • U.S. position as a world leader in education has slipped in recent years, from 4th place in 1997 to 11th place in 2009

  • By 2018, 62% of jobs will require some college or above

  • But only 40% of adults 25-34 have attained a post secondary degree

What about existing skills
What about existing skills?

  • Most of the people you are serving are not fresh out of high school.

  • What have they been doing?

    • Working in various jobs

    • Serving in the military

    • Serving their communities

    • Pursuing personal interests

What is pla
What is PLA?

The evaluation for college credit of the knowledge and skills one gains from:

  • employment

  • military service

  • non-credit instruction/training

  • travel

  • hobbies

  • civic activities

  • volunteer service

Pla methods
PLA Methods

  • Standardized exams

    • Advanced Placement (AP)

    • College Level Examination Program (CLEP)

    • Excelsior College Exams

    • DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST)

  • Challenge exams

  • Individual student portfolios

  • Evaluation of non-college training

    • corporate or military training

  • Evaluation of non-credit instruction

  • History

    Two important educational developments:

    Regional accrediting agencies emerge; define what is “college level learning”

    Rise of standardized testing; now learning can be evaluated independently of the source of learning

    Result: acceptance of the idea that creditable college-level learning is both measurable and independent of its source.


    CAEL founded in 1974 as a project of the Educational Testing Service

    Question: is it possible to conduct valid and reliable assessment of learning gained from work or life experience?

    Answer: Yes, with appropriate procedures and processes in place to evaluate that learning.

    Standards to ensure quality
    Standards to Ensure Quality

    The 10 CAEL Standards for Assessing Learning

    ensure quality

    5 academic standards

    1. Credit or its equivalent should be awarded only for learning, and not for experience.2. Assessment should be based on standards and criteria for the level of acceptable learning that are both agreed upon and made public. 3. Assessment should be treated as an integral part of learning, not separate from it, and should be based on an understanding of learning processes. 4. The determination of credit awards and competence levels must be made by appropriate subject matter and academic or credentialing experts.5. Credit or other credentialing should be appropriate to the context in which it is awarded and accepted.

    5 administrative standards

    6. If awards are for credit, transcript entries should clearly describe what learning is being recognized and should be monitored to avoid giving credit twice for the same learning.7. Policies, procedures, and criteria applied to assessment, including provision for appeal, should be fully disclosed and prominently available to all parties involved in the assessment process.8. Fees charged for assessment should be based on the services performed in the process and not determined by the amount of credit awarded.9.All personnel involved in the assessment of learning should pursue and receive adequate training and continuing professional development for the functions they perform.10. Assessment programs should be regularly monitored, reviewed, evaluated, and revised as needed to reflect changes in the needs being served, the purposes being met, and the state of the assessment arts.

    Training for faculty assessors
    Training for faculty assessors

    Understand principles of experiential learning, including its value for adults.

    Understand and apply the steps and procedures in the PLA process.

    Understand the links between experience and learning, and be able to determine college-level learning gained from experience.

    Discriminate between college-level and pre-college-level learning.

    Understand the history and development of PLA.

    Know and be able to apply principles of best PLA practice

    Apply administrative principles of PLA within the context of your institution.

    Able to express to various audiences the value of PLA.

    Cael s pla study
    CAEL’sPLA Study

    What we wanted to know:

    Do adults who earn PLA credit have better graduation rates, compared with those who do not earn PLA credit?

    Do they have better persistence?

    Do they earn their degrees in a shorter period of time?

    Cael s pla study1
    CAEL’s PLA Study

    • 48-institution study of PLA and academic outcomes (funded by Lumina Foundation for Education)

    • 62,475 total adult students in our sample (adult = age 25 or older)

    The 48 institutions
    The 48 Institutions

    • 41 four-year, 7 two-year

    • 22 public, 24 private not-for-profit, 2 private for-profit

    • Range in size from under 1,000 students to more than 20,000

    • From all regions in the US, with heaviest representation from Mid East, Great Lakes, Plains and Southeast

    • 46 US institutions, 2 Canadian

    What pla options counted
    What PLA Options Counted?

    • standardized exams (e.g., CLEP, DSST, AP, Excelsior)

    • externally-evaluated training program (e.g., ACE)

    • institutional challenge exams

    • portfolio assessment

    • And “other”

    The data
    The Data

    • Student record data on 2001-2002 adult cohort

    • Information on PLA policies and practices, reasons for offering PLA, etc.

    • IPEDS institutional data

    The pla programs
    The PLA Programs

    • 66% of the institutions had offered some form of PLA since before 1980

    • 64% offered five or more PLA methods

    • 94% offered standardized exams, 88% offered portfolio assessment

    Top reasons for offering pla
    Top Reasons for Offering PLA

    • Provide a time-saving avenue for degree completion, 92%

    • Fulfill mission to serve adult learners, 92%

    • Encourage greater student persistence towards a degree, 90%

    • Recognize value of learning that happens outside of the classroom, 88%

    • Provide cost-effective avenue for degree completion, 85%

    • Remove barriers to education, 83%

    • Offer way for students to avoid redundant class work, 73%

    The students
    The Students

    • 62,475 total adult students in our sample (adult = age 25 or older)

    • 15,594 (25%) had earned PLA credit between 2001 and 2008

    Pla students by size of institution
    PLA Students by Size of Institution

    Pla students by control of institution
    PLA Students by Control of Institution

    Pla and student demographics
    PLA and Student Demographics

    • Higher percent of male (29%) than female students (22%) earn PLA credit

    • Higher percent of white, non-Hispanic (33%) and Asian (40%), compared to black, non-Hispanic (24%) or Hispanic (15%)

    • Slightly higher rate of PLA earning among those aged 35-54, compared to younger and older groups

    Pla and student outcomes
    PLA and Student Outcomes

    Graduation rates


    Time to degree

    What we now can say
    What we now can say

    Evidence shows that PLA students, on average, have higher rates of degree earning than do non-PLA students.

    This is true at institutions of all sizes, levels and controls.

    Ways we measured persistence
    Ways We Measured Persistence

    • Credit accumulation towards an associate’s or bachelor’s degree

    • Number of years in which the student earned credit between 2001-2002 and 2007-2008

    Total credits earned at institution a k a how institutions benefit from pla students
    Total Credits Earned at Institutiona.k.a.: how institutions benefit from PLA students

    Average for All PLA Students

    Average for All Non-PLA Students

    43.8 credits

    53.7 credits

    Institutional policies on pla
    Institutional Policies on PLA

    PLA credit can be used to obtain advanced standing at the institution

    PLA credit can be used to waive course prerequisites

    PLA credit can be used to meet general education requirements

    PLA credit can be used to meet program/major requirements

    Do institutional policies matter
    Do Institutional Policies Matter?

    The greater the flexibility the student has for using the PLA credit, the better the academic outcomes.

    Additional findings student demographics
    Additional findings: student demographics




    Financial aid recipients

    Summary graduation rates
    Summary – Graduation Rates

    PLA students in this study had better graduation rates than non-PLA students:

    • regardless of institutional size, level (two-year or four-year) or control (private for-profit, non-profit, or public)

    • regardless of the individual student’s academic ability or grade point average

    • regardless of the individual student’s age, gender, or race/ethnicity

    • regardless of whether or not the individual student receives financial aid

    Summary persistence
    Summary - Persistence

    PLA students have higher rates of persistence compared with non-PLA students.

    • In terms of credit accumulation/progress towards the degree

    • In terms of number of years of credit-earning

    Summary time to degree
    Summary – Time to Degree

    • PLA students earned bachelor’s degrees in a shorter periods of time compared with non-PLA students – a difference of between 2.5 and 10.1 months, depending upon the number of PLA credits earned.

    • PLA earners with associate’s degrees saved an average of between 1.5 and 4.5 months of time in earning their degrees, compared to non-PLA students earning associate’s degrees.

    Want to read the report
    Want to read the report?

    Our published report on this study was released in March 2010.

    Executive summary:

    Full report:

    The need to scale up pla offerings

    The Need to Scale Up PLA Offerings

    Community college survey
    Community College Survey

    • Spring 2010 CAEL study of community colleges shows a need for PLA.

      • 88 respondents from two-year institutions

    Community college pla survey
    Community College PLA Survey

    • Sample Question: Do you have younger adults who come to your institution with some technical training that they have learned on the job?

    Community college pla survey1
    Community College PLA Survey

    • Sample question: If you could evaluate this prior learning from technical training and tie it to courses, could there be greater use of PLA at your institution?

    Community college pla survey2
    Community College PLA Survey

    Sample question: Do you think your institution will see increased demand for PLA options in the future?

    Adults care about pla
    Adults Care About PLA

    • A College Board study of 1500 adults rated “credit for prior learning policy” as more important than “small class size” or “availability of financial aid.”

    • A KY telephone survey indicated that the opportunity to earn credit for prior learning is one of 3 motivators for adults with some college but no degree.

    Need to scale up pla
    Need to scale up PLA

    • Only 66% of higher education institutions offer portfolio method; most serve very few students annually

    • Research indicates a need at institutions for more PLA, but a lack of capacity and resources

      • Specialized training for assessors, advisors, administrators

      • Time intensive program

      • Salaries, space, training, marketing

    Scaling up the use of pla through learningcounts org
    Scaling Up the Use of PLA Through

    A new national online PLA Center

    • Developed with a planning grant from Lumina Foundation for Education

    • ACE and College Board partnering on project

    • CAEL will draw upon faculty experts nationwide for teaching portfolio development course and reviewing adult students’ portfolios

    The pilot phase
    The Pilot Phase

    With funding from Lumina Foundation for Education, the Kresge Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and the Walmart Foundation,CAEL has begun the two-year pilot phase of

    Cael s learncounts org

    Uses on-line platform

    Helps students earn all forms of PLA credit

    Offers basic on-line advising

    Offers an on-line PLA course

    Assigns portfolios to faculty evaluators who have been trained by CAEL


    Cael s learningcounts org

    Credit recommendations from the Center’s faculty experts will be sent on ACE transcript to colleges, as ACE already does today with military and corporate training

    Whom will it serve
    Whom Will It Serve?

    • Individuals already enrolled in community colleges or four-year institutions

      • Provide support for postsecondary institutions that have no existing PLA programs

      • Augment existing PLA programs at some postsecondary institutions

    Whom will it serve1
    Whom Will It Serve?

    • Unaffiliated individuals not yet in college or those who have started but never finished college

      • Active duty military and veterans

      • Workers in transition or lower-income workers

    Whom will it serve2
    Whom Will It Serve?

    • Employers and industry groups

      • To pursue the further credentialing of their employees

      • To document learning that has already been completed and identify skills gaps

    Why colleges are interested
    Why Colleges Are Interested

    Lack of a PLA program at their institution

    Existing program cannot keep up with high volume of portfolio submissions

    Lack of personnel to adequately staff their PLA program

    Lack of credentialed faculty to review submitted portfolios in certain fields

    Interest in streamlining their process through increased capacity and speed

    Reliance on CAEL’s Center as an interim resource while the institution prepares to launch or expand its own PLA program on campus

    Learningcounts org fact sheet Fact Sheet

    • Website launched Dec. 3, 2010

    • Website Phase 2, launched January 24, 2011

    • First online class began January 24, 2011

    • Over 450 faculty want to work for

    • Recommendations for credit accepted by network of accredited colleges.

    Sample pilot institutions
    Sample Pilot Institutions

    Over 80 colleges and universities serving as pilot institutions

    Links to workforce system policy change

    Support from Joyce Foundation to work with two states on:

    • establishing new regulatory language specifying that Individual Training Accounts (ITAs) could be used to cover the cost of portfolio courses,

    • identifying WIA-funded training programs that could be evaluated for academic credit.

      Target States: Indiana and Washington

    Examples of policy change we d like to see
    Examples of Policy Change We’d Like to See

    • PLA in State WIA Plan

    • State or local policy letter from State WIB/Governor to agencies/contractors/providers verifying ITA usage for PLA

    • General Policy letter in support of PLA

    • PLA Assessment classified as a core and intensive service

    • Create and launch a PLA pilot for public training course, focused on a particular credential/subject

    Questions for discussion
    Questions for Discussion

    • What are your priorities as you advance PLA in the state?

    • What are the opportunities and challenges?

    • How can CAEL help?

    Contact us
    Contact us

    If we can help, please email me

    [email protected]