Draft 06/08/2015. Value Statement: Definition of Prior Learning and PLA:

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1 Draft 06/08/2015 Value Statement: PLA is a proven strategy that should be considered as an effective and important way to both recruit adult students and to support their persistence to degree completion. Recognition of college level learning gained in a non-collegiate setting (such as military or corporate training for example) by an A&M campus through rigorous assessment saves students time and money and provides encouragement that a college degree is within their grasp. A 2010 research study, Fueling the Race to Postsecondary Success (Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, 2010), found that among adult students enrolled at 48 higher education institutions, those who earned PLA credits were more than twice as likely to persist to graduation than other adult students. Definition of Prior Learning and PLA: In order to better understand and communicate prior learning policies and practices, it is useful to have common definitions. Prior Learning is a term used by educators to describe learning that a person acquires outside a traditional academic environment. This learning may have been acquired through multiple means including but not limited to: work experience, employer training programs, military training or experience, independent study, non-credit courses, noncollege courses or seminars, non-credit apprenticeship or vocational certification programs, or volunteer or community service experience. Some of this learning may be equivalent to collegelevel learning. Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is the process by which an individual s experiential and other extra-institutional learning is assessed and evaluated for purposes of granting college credit, certification, or advanced standing toward further education or training. PLA methods have been used in U.S. Colleges and Universities for more than forty years and the amount of credit a student can earn for her prior learning can be determined through several different types of assessment practices. There are five generally accepted approaches to assessing prior learning in U.S. Colleges and Universities and Texas A&M System campuses use many of these methods to award credit for prior learning. 1

2 Accepted Forms of PLA at Texas A&M Campuses: 1) The most widely used approach to assess prior learning on A&M campuses is the use of standardized exams from an external source such as: Advanced Placement Examination Program (AP exams) College Level Examination Program Exams (CLEP exams) DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST exams) Excelsior College Exams (UExcel) SAT/ACT exams International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme exams Cambridge Pre-U exams 2) Internal College Faculty-developed exams, also called institutional, departmental, or challenge exams are also used on most A&M campuses and allow students to earn credit by taking final examinations created by faculty for courses given at the institution. 3) Most A&M Campuses also use credit recommendations from recognized external evaluators to award credit for non-collegiate learning. These external evaluators review training or learning material that is offered by the military, employers, or other educational or training institutions and includes: The American Council on Education (ACE) credit recommendations for military training and occupations The National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS) credit recommendations for corporate and other external training, MOOC s, or other non-credit courses The American Council on Education (ACE) credit recommendations for corporate and other external training, MOOC s, or other non-credit courses 2

3 College Credit for Heroes: a partnership between the Texas Workforce Commission and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to ensure that active duty, former and retired military personnel receive the credit they earned for their service to our country 4) Some A&M institutions also work directly with local employers or other education and training providers to internally evaluate company training programs, vocational or apprenticeship programs, or other non-credit programs (such as certifications or licenses) for college level learning and credit equivalency with their campus college courses. 5) Finally, some A&M campuses offer individualized assessments of students learning through a portfolio or performance preparation and evaluation/assessment process. Not all institutions will wish to offer all forms of assessment of prior learning and while PLA is encouraged on A&M campuses, the decision about what processes to offer should be based on institutional mission and academic programs offered. As campuses develop new or revise existing PLA policies and practices, these recommendations which are based on good practice and experience, provide a useful guide. Recommended Standards and Parameters for Awarding and transferring PLA Credit and posting PLA Credit to a transcript Accreditation and published quality standards: The following standards provide a basis for the philosophy of a high quality PLA program. First and foremost, credits awarded for prior learning must be in accordance with the Standards of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. In addition, if a program accrediting agency (such as various specialized accreditation agencies) imposes a specific maximum for PLA credit, that maximum must be honored for that program. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) publishes policies related to PLA in The Principles of Accreditations: Foundations for Quality Enhancement (revised 2011), as 3

4 well as a resource manual to help institutions interpret the standards (http://sacscoc.org/pdf/resource%20manual.pdf). The first standard addresses the acceptance of academic credit: The institution publishes policies that include criteria for evaluating, awarding, and accepting credit for transfer, experiential learning, credit by examination, Advanced Placement, and professional certificates that is consistent with its mission and ensures that course work and learning outcomes are at the collegiate level and comparable to the institution s own degree programs. The institution assumes responsibility for the academic quality of any course work or credit recorded on the institution s transcript (Principles of Accreditation, 3.4.4, p. 28). The resource manual explains that policies for experiential learning are to be published in catalogs and other documents that are made available to prospective students (Resource Manual, p. 57). Good practices include awarding credit for experiential learning and professional certifications based on well-documented activities and experience at the appropriate educational level and evaluated based on clearly developed outcomes for the courses or program for which credit is awarded ; in addition, qualified faculty are involved in the evaluation of credit (Resource Manual, p. 57). The resource manual also notes that when SACSCOC reviews this standard at an institution, evaluators will examine the criteria used by the institution for determining the awarding or acceptance of credit. A list of relevant questions for consideration suggests that SACSCOC values institutional policies that are consistent with the mission and with good practices: involve faculty in the review and award of credit, make the policies transparent to students, ensure academic quality, and assure that the coursework and learning outcomes are at the collegiate level (Resource Manual, p. 57). A second standard addresses awarding credit for noncredit instruction: The institution awards academic credit for course work taken on a noncredit basis only when there is documentation that the noncredit course work is equivalent to a designated credit experience. (Principles of Accreditation, 3.4.8, p. 28) 4

5 The resource manual explains that institutions awarding credit for noncredit coursework must have a process for evaluating and determining that noncredit course work is equivalent to a designated experience and that these processes are systematically reviewed (Resource Manual, p. 61). While the SACSCOC PLA policy itself does not mention a restriction on the number of credits students may earn under PLA, such a restriction does exist because of overall residency requirements. The residency requirement of undergraduate degrees is at least 25 percent of the credit hours required for the degree (Principles of Accreditation, 3.5.2, p. 29). The residency requirement for graduate or post-baccalaureate professional degrees is one-third of required credit hours (Principles of Accreditation, 3.6.3, p. 30). There is strong alignment between the SACSCOC standards and guidelines as well as those from the other regional accrediting organizations and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) quality standards for assessing learning in order to award credit for prior learning. These guidelines provide an excellent checklist for developing or revising policy. CAEL s Ten Standards for Assessing Learning 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

6 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. Taken from Assessing Learning: Standards, Principles, and Procedures (Second Edition) By Morry Fiddler, Catherine Marienau, and Urban Whitaker, Chicago, Kendall Hunt Publishing Company Application to academic program: recommended implementation practices PLA credits should not be treated differently than transfer or native credits in their application to a student s academic program and should be awarded for courses directly applicable to requirements of the declared program (including general education, majors, minors, and electives). Applicable PLA credits should be awarded to students once they have been admitted to the institution. It is also strongly recommended that campuses consider making consultation with an advisor mandatory prior to a student seeking the award of PLA credits, and that credit be awarded only after a student has declared an academic program. These practices help students minimize the accumulation of excess or extraneous credits which could adversely affect some financial aid options as well as timely graduation. Credit limits 6

7 It is recommended that any limits established to the maximum number of credits awarded to a student should not be based on the method of assessment. Maximum number of credits that can be earned through all forms of PLA should be set in accordance with appropriate accreditation standards. For example, SACS requires that in all cases a student must earn 25% of total hours required for a credential in instruction delivered by the institution awarding the credential therefore the maximum credits that a student could earn in non-native courses (including, for example, assessment of prior learning and/or transfer credit) within these standards would be 75% of hours required. System campuses should discuss and clearly publish the maximum number of credits allowed by transfer and assessment practices that reflect campus and A&M values and philosophy. It is recommended that PLA credits should not be treated differently than transfer credits as philosophically they are equivalent. Transfer PLA credit awarded at one A&M institution will be accepted as transfer credit at other A&M institutions in accordance with existing Texas transfer policies. Transcripts PLA credits should appear on students transcripts as transfer credit and it is recommended that the following information be recorded in order to meet quality standards as well as to facilitate tracking and evaluation of PLA within the institution: Course number (Campus course number that matches learning evaluated & credit awarded) Course title (Campus course title that matches learning evaluated & credit awarded) Grade (may be pass/fail designation) Hours Source (i.e. CLEP, AP, DANTES, Portfolio, etc.) Fees Any fees charged in relation to PLA should be related to the assessment and transcripting processes and should not be based on the number of credits awarded. 7

8 Further Recommendations for Maintaining Transparency and Consistency Communication and Transparency Policies and procedures relating to awarding of credit for prior learning should be published and presented in a clear and transparent manner (whether print or electronic) and be readily available for current and prospective students, faculty and academic staff, employers, and the general public. It is recommended that all information related to the campus PLA program be compiled in one section of the catalog or website (rather than-- or in addition to-- sections dealing with testing, transfer, military students, etc.) and be accessible by multiple key word searches including credit for prior learning, credit for experiential learning, PLA, and adult and military students, for example. Appeals Process Campuses should develop and communicate a process for appealing PLA decisions. Periodic Review Campus policies and programs should be reviewed and updated periodically; it is recommended that this occur at least every five years corresponding with the SACS accreditation review. As part of this review campuses are encouraged to compile and review PLA activity on their campus including but not limited to the volume of PLA credits awarded annually by PLA procedure and demographic characteristics of students receiving credit by PLA. Consistency of credit awards by exams Texas A&M campuses should review their current policies in regard to awarding of credit by external examinations and consider if a more consistent approach would be possible throughout the system. There is considerable variation among campuses on which exams are recognized on which campuses. Current information on campus websites also indicates a range of credits awarded by the campuses for various scores on some of these examinations. It may be useful to review the current recommendations for credits awarded from the external sources (such as CLEP) and to have a discussion about bringing current practice and information up to date on campuses information sources. 8

9 Portfolio Assessors For those campuses that perform portfolio assessments as part of their PLA program, it is recommended that campuses develop standards of competence in regard to assessors and that opportunities for training and credentialing of assessors be supported. 9

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