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Alternative Credit Options for the Online Student

Alternative Credit Options for the Online Student


prior-learning-optionsBy Dr. Patricia Campbell and Kimberly Watson

Dr. Campbell is the Assistant Provost at APU.
Kimberly Watson is an Alternative Learning Specialist at APUS.

Prior learning assessment (PLA) is a means by which learners may receive credit for college-level learning that has taken place outside the traditional classroom. Universities have a long history of providing expedited ways for students to complete their degrees; prior learning is one of those options. Since the 1970s, universities have offered a variety of ways for students to demonstrate their prior learning. The types of prior learning that most people are familiar with include Advanced Placement (AP) or College-Level Exam Program (CLEP) tests, but credit for prior learning also includes Defense Activity for Non-traditional Education (DANTES), DSST exams, or American Council on Education (ACE) recommended credit. At American Public University System, all of the aforementioned methods for awarding college credit for prior learning are utilized, but we also have an internal Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) program. In November of 2015, we reached a milestone of having awarded more than 1,000 credit hours to students using the PLA approach!

The focus of prior learning is to acknowledge that not all learning takes place in a university setting. There are millions of Americans who have achieved their learning on the job or through a hobby such as volunteer work. This learning could be transferred to college credit. There are also millions of Americans who have some college credit, but no degree. Through PLA, students can utilize a more flexible pathway to their degree. Students who get involved in a PLA program are more likely to be successful. A Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) study found that “graduation rates are two and a half times higher for students with PLA credit. PLA students also had higher persistence rates and a faster time to degree completion.”

At the university, students have an opportunity to develop a portfolio for a specific course within their degree program to petition for credit for what they have learned. Using the PLA portfolio program can save students time and money in the pursuit of their degrees. Students who have successfully completed the Prior Learning Assessment course and submitted portfolios have earned up to thirty credits, saved upwards of 5,000 dollars, and have finished their degree programs between eight weeks and one and a half years earlier than they would have without using the PLA program. Both undergraduate and graduate students are eligible for the program.

Helping students achieve their educational goals is a priority for us at APUS. Our PLA program is one of the most comprehensive and respected programs in higher education, and we stand by ready to work with interested students. Please contact us at pla@apus.edu.