WICHE partnered with several organizations from 2018-2020 to conduct a broad landscape analysis and original research related to the recognition of prior learning. This initiative was made possible through generous funding from Lumina Foundation and Strada Education Network. The research from the initiative and additional ongoing research are organized below.
Opportunity Unrealized for Some Students despite the Potential for Improved Credit Completion
The PLA Boost: Results from a 72-Institution Targeted Study of Prior Learning Assessment and Adult Student Outcomes
A series of briefs, reports, and actionable toolkits about prior learning policies and practices.
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. From data on more than 230,000 adult students, key findings of the 2020 PLA Boost report were:
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).
$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.
17.6 Additional credits earned by students with PLA compared to non-PLA students.
In the main PLA Boost study, 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. In a new brief, Equity Paradoxes in The PLA Boost, we provide a deeper look into these lower rates and offer specific recommendations for intentional design of policies and practices that prioritize equity in the design of PLA/CPL programs.
January 14, 2022
WICHE blog about the need for a strong focus on equity in prior learning opportunities and how the value proposition of PLA for younger students, as well as adult students, can help make a broader case for recognizing prior learning.Learn More
October 13, 2021
This brief provides a deeper look into the finding from The PLA Boost main study that PLA credit receipt was particularly lower for Black adult students and students from low-income backgrounds and offers specific recommendations for intentional design of policies and practices that prioritize equity in the design of PLA/CPL programs.SnapshotDownload PDF
February 9, 2021
This brief is part of a broad landscape analysis focused on policy and practice issues related to the recognition of prior learning and is published by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, with funding from Lumina Foundation and Strada Education Network. 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.Learn MoreDownload PDF
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.Learn MoreDownload PDF
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.Learn MoreDownload PDF
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.Learn MoreDownload PDF
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.Learn MoreDownload PDF
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.Learn MoreDownload PDF
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.Learn MoreDownload PDF
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.Learn MoreDownload PDF
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.Learn MoreDownload PDF
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.Learn MoreDownload PDF
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.Learn MoreDownload PDF
February 9, 2021
This brief is part of a broad landscape analysis on policy and practice issues related to the recognition of prior learning and is published by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), with funding from Lumina Foundation and Strada Education Network. 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.Learn MoreDownload PDF
During this webinar, CAEL and WICHE shared key findings and data that show how PLA benefits both students and institutions alike.
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.
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.
During this Webinar, WICHE gave an overview of the landscape analysis and AACRAO presented on its research as part of the landscape analysis.
Vice President, Policy Analysis and Research
Patrick Lane is the vice president of WICHE’s Policy Analysis and Research unit. He previously was its director of data initiatives, a role that has included managing the Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchange, which seeks to improve linkages between state data systems to provide better information to students and their families while also improving education, workforce, and economic development policy. He previously coordinated WICHE’s Adult College Completion Network and has worked extensively on the Non-Traditional No More: Policy Solutions for Adult Learners project. Both projects focused on identifying policy and practice solutions to help adults with prior college credit return to postsecondary education to complete their degrees. Lane also coordinated WICHE’s College Access Regional Network, which focused on increasing the number of low-income students prepared to enter and succeed in post secondary education. He came to WICHE having spent several years working in education policy in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Lane received a master’s degree from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University in 2007 and completed a Ph.D. in public administration at the University of Colorado Denver in 2015.