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Recognition of Learning

A research initiative to inform policy and practice

WICHE partnered with several organizations from 2018-2020 to conduct a broad landscape analysis and original research related to the recognition of prior learning. The landscape analysis focuses on issues arising in the practice of the recognition of prior learning, policies that encourage or limit its adoption, and key research needs and future directions for the field.  This work has culminated in a series of briefs, reports, and actionable toolkits that can be found below. Additional materials will be added through the end of 2020. This initiative was made possible through generous funding from Lumina Foundation and Strada Education Network.

As part of this initiative, WICHE and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) collaborated with more than 70 institutions to research the impact of prior learning assessment (PLA) on adult student outcomes. Analyzing data on more than 230,000 adult students, the research finds:

PLA Boosts Credential Completion Rates for Adult Students

17% Increase in completion rate for adult students when controlling for other factors (and Hispanic, Community College and Pell Grant students saw ever greater completion rates).

PLA Saves Adult Students Time and Money

$1,500 to $10,200 Estimated adult student savings through PLA, depending on sector.

9 to 14 Months Estimated adult student time savings in earning degrees, with 12 or more PLA credits.

Institutions Also Benefit through Better Retention

17.6 Additional credits earned by students with PLA compared to non-PLA students.

Yet, we found that only 11 percent of students in the sample earned PLA credits and the rates were far lower for Black students and students from low-income backgrounds.

It is critically important to ensure there is better access to PLA (and other ways to recognize college-level learning from work and life experience) among adult students who have not traditionally had strong access to these programs.

 

Results from CAEL and WICHE’s 72-Institution Research Study

Full Report

Executive Summary

Technical Appendix

Fact Sheet

The PLA Boost: Results from a 72-Institution Targeted Study of Prior Learning Assessment and Adult Student Outcomes. Updated December 4, 2020.*

The PLA Boost: Results from a 72-Institution Targeted Study of Prior Learning Assessment and Adult Student Outcomes. Updated December 4, 2020.*

The PLA Boost: Results from a 72-Institution Targeted Study of Prior Learning Assessment and Adult Student Outcomes. Updated December 4, 2020.*

The PLA Boost: Results from a 72-Institution Targeted Study of Prior Learning Assessment and Adult Student Outcomes. Updated December 4, 2020.*

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*Update December 4, 2020: Please note that we recently discovered that a small subset of the data that informed The PLA Boost, originally released October 15, 2020, had been duplicated. The good news is that our updated calculations do not affect any of our topline findings; adult students with PLA are more likely to complete credentials, and, whether measured in time, money, or both, PLA reduces their cost of college completion. In fact, it turns out that time savings were greater than originally calculated. Meanwhile, the number of PLA credits associated with improved completion is lower, showing that PLA’s benefits occur at even smaller “doses.” For more information, please see this detailed errata sheet that compares any changes from the October 15, 2020 version of The PLA Boost report and related materials to the December 4, 2020 version.

Briefs

The following briefs are part of the landscape analysis regarding prior learning policies and practices. The landscape analysis focuses on issues arising in the practice of the recognition of prior learning, policies that encourage or limit its adoption, and key research needs and future directions for the field.

Recognizing Prior Learning in the COVID-19 Era: Helping Displaced Workers and Students One Credit at a Time

Written by: Sarah Leibrandt and Patrick Lane of WICHE and Rebecca Klein-Collins of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning

June 6, 2020

In March 2020, the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and the accompanying economic impact changed higher education in the U.S. in unprecedented ways and had severe impacts on students. This brief summarizes some of the key findings from WICHE's Recognition of Learning initiative and synthesizes recommendations from this work that practitioners and policymakers focused on postsecondary education and/or workforce development might consider as discussion moves toward recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. As this brief argues, fair and equitable recognition of prior learning is one tool among many that higher education can use during this unprecedented time to help more students and displaced workers earn valuable credentials, saving time and money in the process.

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Recent Developments in Prior Learning

Written by: Julie Uranis, University Professional and Continuing Education Association and Van L. Davis, WCET – the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies

November 10, 2020

This brief explores the relationship between the recognition of prior learning and employers as more employers look for ways to reskill existing employees in a rapidly changing labor market. Because such relationships are still fairly new and vary considerably, three case studies are used to highlight both promising practices in RPL associated with employers as well as challenges to such relationships.

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Credit by Examination: Recognizing Learning and Supporting Adult Learners

Written by: Colleen Falkenstern, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education

November 10, 2020

Credit by Examination is a foundational practice of prior learning assessment that is widely accessible and has the potential to be a powerful tool to supporting adult learners entering and re-entering postsecondary education. WICHE conducted a meta-analysis of existing literature to understand the impact CLEP and WorkKeys, two types of credit-by-examination, can have on student success. A robust evaluation of the CLEP program found those scoring above a 50 to have shorter time to degrees and higher post-credential earnings. Predominately used in the workforce setting, those completing WorkKeys and obtaining a National Career Readiness Certificate have seen positive workforce outcomes, such as higher earnings and higher rates of employment. More research is needed on both CLEP and WorkKeys usage to better inform PLA policies, particularly in how credit by examination can be used to better support adult learners.

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The Current State of Prior Learning Policies

Written by: Rosa M. García, Center for Law and Social Policy and Sarah Leibrandt, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education

November 20, 2020

This brief investigates the critical role states, accrediting bodies, and the federal government can play in making credit for prior learning more accessible and affordable for students with low incomes, students of color, immigrants, and adult learners.

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Learning Recognition and the Future of Higher Education – A Vision for a Post-Pandemic Learning Ecosystem

Written by: Rebecca Klein-Collins, Council for Adult and Experiential Learning and Nan Travers, SUNY Empire State College

September 10, 2020

The authors of this brief conducted conversations with several leaders of change within the higher education landscape. Drawing on these conversations, the authors suggest what a future higher education model could - and should - look like in order to reflect the realities of the changing world of work post-COVID while taking advantage of advances in technology-based tools and our growing understanding of how people learn.

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Advising and Prior Learning Assessment for Degree Completion

Written by: Alexa Wesley and Amelia Parnell of NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education

August 27, 2020

To examine the conditions around advising students about Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) and the current state of the field, NASPA conducted a research study involving video and phone interviews with practitioners in advising-related roles at institutions and a national survey of student affairs professionals. This brief shares findings and recommendations from this research.

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An Examination of Prior Learning Assessment Policy and Practice as Experienced by Academic Records Professionals and Students

Written by: Wendy Kilgore of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers

July 14, 2020

The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) surveyed member institutions to better understand institutional policies and practices related to prior learning assessment (PLA) and fielded a student survey to understand student perspectives on PLA. This brief shares findings and recommendations from this research.

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Credit for Prior Learning in the Community College: A Case from Colorado

Written by: Heather A. McKay and Daniel Douglas, Education and Employment Research Center

October 29, 2020

The Education and Employment Research Center conducted a case study of the colleges in the Colorado Community College System to better understand the impact of grant funding on credit for prior learning (CPL) policy and practice implementation. Grant funding for CPL policy and practice implementation can ignite change but will not necessarily lead to sustained change. Creating greater awareness of CPL at community colleges among students, faculty, and staff can increase uptake by students.

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HBCUs and Prior Learning Assessments

Written by: Amy D. Goldstein, Thurgood Marshall College Fund

October 15, 2020

This brief explores the ways in which HBCUs acknowledge and award postsecondary credit to students for college-level learning that took place outside of the institution as a way to improve student outcomes. Thurgood Marshall College Fund undertook research that reviewed information publicly available regarding PLA policies and information on HBCU websites and engaged in a more in-depth case study analysis of four targeted HBCUs, each of which represents a distinct type of institution. This brief concludes with recommendations for policy and practice with regard to HBCUs and other institutions facing similar resource constraints.

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PLA from the Student’s Perspective: Lessons Learned from Survey and Interview Data

Written by: Sarah Leibrandt, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education

December 2, 2020

This brief draws on data from a survey administered to 1,184 current college students and from interviews with six college students to better understand how students access (or not) opportunities to earn credit for prior learning. Lack of information about PLA was cited as a top barrier to accessing PLA. For those students that did access PLA, students cited conversations about PLA with individuals (such as academic advisors on the college campus, other students, or family members) as being most influential. The brief concludes with recommendations from students themselves on how institutions can improve their PLA programs and policies.

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Recent Presentations

December 10, 2020: Lumina Recognition of Learning Convening

Making the Case for the Recognition of Learning: Evidence from the Field to Scale Effective Practices & Policies

During this webinar, CAEL and WICHE shared key findings and data that show how PLA benefits both students and institutions alike.

 

November 5, 2020: CAEL 2020 Conference Session

Prior Learning Assessment: the Impact for Today’s Students and the Importance for Tomorrow’s

During this conference session, WICHE gave an overview of the landscape analysis and several partners presented on their research on the following topics: PLA advising practices on campus, PLA policies at the state and system level, and the future of PLA.

 

October 22, 2020: CAEL and WICHE Webinar

The PLA Boost: Results from a 72-Institution Targeted Study of Prior Learning Assessment and Adult Student Outcomes

During this webinar, WICHE and CAEL introduced findings from The PLA Boost. Several institutions from the study joined WICHE and CAEL to discuss the implications of these findings.

 

July 15, 2020: AACRAO and WICHE Presentation

Two Perspectives on Prior Learning Assessment and Student Success

During this Webinar, WICHE gave an overview of the landscape analysis and AACRAO presented on its research as part of the landscape analysis.

 

For questions, please contact:

Patrick Lane

Vice President, Policy Analysis and Research


303.541.0266

plane@wiche.edu