- Glossary of Terms
- PLA With A Purpose: Prior Learning Assessment & Ohio’s College Completion Agenda (PDF)
Helping learners earn postsecondary certificates and degrees. Making Ohio more competitive in a global economy in which knowledge and skills are highly prized and rewarded.
- Initial Research Into Prior Learning Assessment in Ohio
Measuring What Students Learn Outside the Classroom
Prior Learning Assessments, or PLAs, measure what a student has learned outside of the college classroom, evaluate whether that learning is college level and then determine the equivalent number of college credits.
- Public Agenda Focus Group Findings
Faculty and Administrators Focus Groups on Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), University of Akron
This memo summarizes the themes that emerged in three focus groups with faculty members and administrators at the University of Akron (UA) on the topic of Prior Learning Assessment (PLA). In these conversations we sought to learn more about faculty and administrator attitudes toward PLA, and to get an initial sense of barriers and enablers to implementing and scaling promising PLA practices at UA and, more broadly, in Ohio. The research was conducted by Public Agenda in collaboration with the Ohio Board of Regents with funding from the Lumina Foundation.
- Recommended Standards in Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) Policy and Practice for Tennessee Public Colleges and Universities
The Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 mandates that Tennessee’s public higher education institutions implement actions to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential. One means to increase the attainment of higher education credentials, especially among adult students, is the provision of credit toward a college credential based on an assessment of students’ prior learning.
HB 4059: Credit for Prior Learning
A 2012 Report to the Oregon Legislature
State Policy Approaches to Support Prior Learning Assessment
A Resource Guide for State Leaders
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Element 1: Ensuring Student-Centered, Faculty-Driven Practices Resources
What are some important considerations when advising and pre-screening students for PLA options?
Many students do not know PLA is an option to reduce their cost and time to degree and therefore do not know to ask about it. Institutions should consider making PLA a regular part of their advising sessions with new students, especially incoming adult students. Here are some resources that are helpful when thinking about advising PLA students:
How are Ohio institutions increasing student awareness about PLA opportunities?
Ensuring that students have information about PLA options is critical if the benefits of PLA are to be realized. Several Ohio institutions have created pamphlets to distribute in their outreach efforts, and many institutions have made information about PLA options available on their websites. Here are some examples of how campuses are getting the word out:
Element 2: Ensures Consistency
Do all Ohio campuses allow students to earn PLA credit by examination? And if so, how do they deal with the issue of consistency?
Nearly all Ohio public institutions award credit through some form of examination-based assessment. By giving students opportunities to earn credit by examination (CBE) through either institutional/ departmental examinations or nationally recognized, non-institutional examinations, Ohio’s colleges and universities promote students’ success by accelerating their academic pathways, saving them money and motivating them to continue with their education.
Non-institutional examinations, such as CLEP (College-Level Examination Program), provide a clear pathway for students to quantify the prior learning they have obtained outside the traditional postsecondary teaching/learning environment. Many of the organizations offering these exams have fine-tuned the development process over several decades. CLEP exams, for example, are produced in concert with content experts who create, vet, test and review exam questions to ensure validity, reliability and comprehensive coverage of the subject matter. Aside from providing students a clear-cut way to demonstrate prior learning, non-institutional exams expedite the path to graduation by giving students the ability to demonstrate college-level learning before admission, and this can keep them motivated.
CLEP is a nationally standardized exam through the College Board used to demonstrate proficiency in five subject areas (33 exams) covering material taught in courses that are generally taken in the first two years of college. While most colleges and universities offer a large selection of the 33 available exams – either on campus or at off-campus testing sites – passing scores are often different across institutions.
For guidance on the use of this program, see:
Although non-institutional examinations are recognized as a well-defined type of prior learning assessment, they do not always provide a clear route for a student’s progression through training, certificate or degree programs. Students who use non-institutional exams can face challenges in the absence of consistent transcription and transfer policies. For example, in academic disciplines containing highly dependent course sequences, students who use a non-institutional exam for a prerequisite course and do not receive a letter grade for it on the transcript often cannot move to a subsequent course (i.e., if a letter grade of C or better is required for the prerequisite course and Pass/Fail is not accepted).
Institutional/departmental examinations (e.g., proficiency exams and challenge exams) offer students additional opportunities to quantify their prior learning and accelerate their progress toward training, certificate or degree programs. Institutions across Ohio offer these exams for a wide range of courses outside those covered by non-institutional exams.
In addition to increasing opportunities for students to earn PLA credit, institutional/ departmental exams provide academic departments the flexibility to tailor exams to fit their specific program curriculum, give program faculty confidence that the exams reflect an appropriate level of academic rigor and provide faculty direct control of the assessment process. Since faculty leadership in maintaining academic rigor is paramount, institutional/departmental exams remain an important part of the state’s overall approach to PLA.
With institutional/departmental exams, achieving consistent standards across departments within a college or university – or among institutions statewide – is a serious dilemma. Clearly, these examinations should meet the standards for assessing learning outlined by CAEL. Such standards are not merely an “academic” matter, since consistency is needed for PLA credit to be transferable to all or most public institutions across Ohio.
What content is included in a standardized portfolio document?
For portfolio-based assessment, institutions should develop a standardized portfolio content format that includes, for example, each of the following:
- Table of contents or listing of documents/artifacts
- Course syllabus with description and learning outcomes or competencies
- Current resume
- Course-specific narrative with reflections
- Course-specific evidence that learning has been achieved –
i.e., a number or combination of artifacts, demonstrated proficiency, written documents, performances, demonstrations, videos, training manuals, PowerPoint slide presentations, etc.
Here is an example of a syllabus used in a portfolio course:
In 2013, Governor Kasich signed an Executive Order (2013-05K) to support Ohio’s veterans by ensuring they are receiving the appropriate credit and credentialing for their military training and experience. What does it say about PLA? What does it require the institutions to do in this area? And do Ohio’s public colleges and universities have a consistent policy relative to the granting of PLA credit for military learning and experience?
Ohio’s public institutions are committed to the acceptance and awarding of college credit for College-Level Examination Programs (CLEP) and for learning and experience in the United States Armed Forces or National Guard, as long as it has been recognized by the American Council on Education or a regional accrediting body, such as the Higher Learning Commission.
The Governor’s Executive Order streamlines the occupational licensing process for veterans and ensures that their relevant military education, skills training and experience are taken into account when determining equivalency for issuing licenses and certificates. The Governor also charged the Chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education to work with all public institutions to conduct a thorough review of current institutional policies and practices, and to make recommendations for simplifying and improving the process for awarding college credit for military training, experience and coursework.
Many of the recommendations generated by this review were included in Amended Substitute H.B. 488 (130th General Assembly), which the Governor signed in June 2014. Among the provisions of this legislation are the following:
- The Chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education must develop a set of standards and procedures for all public institutions to utilize in the granting of college credit for military training, experience and coursework. These baseline standards and procedures provide uniformity and consistency to the process, make it easier to communicate with and reach a wider audience, and highlight the priority the higher education community places on assisting veterans and active duty service members with their educational and career goals.
The Board of Trustees or managing authority of each public institution must establish an appeals procedure for students who are veterans or service members for resolving disputes regarding the awarding of college credit for military learning and experience.
- The institutions must use the baseline standards and procedures and Ohio’s credit transfer guarantee initiatives, which have been a cornerstone of the state’s effort to help students finish their certificates and degree programs by offering statewide credit and course/program equivalency transfer guarantees, to help service members and veterans reach their academic goals, and to build campuses’ processes to award college credit for military training, experience and coursework.
For information about readily available tools that some public institutions are already using to award, transcript and post college credit for military training, experience and coursework, see this page on Awarding, Transcripting, and Posting of College Credit for Military Training, Experience, and Coursework.
To implement H.B. 488, the Ohio Department of Higher Education has formed the Military Strategic Implementation Team (MSIT). For more information about the MSIT and the state’s Ohio Values Veterans initiative, see:
Do all public institutions use a single set of common definitions for “veterans” and “service members?”
No. State-level and federal-level definitions of “veterans” and “service members” vary. The Ohio Revised Code (ORC) defines service member as “a person who is serving in the armed forces of the United States” and veteran as “any person who has completed service in the armed forces, including the national guard of any state or a reserve component of the armed forces, and who has been discharged under honorable conditions from the armed forces or who has been transferred to the reserve with evidence of satisfactory service” (ORC 3345.42). These definitions apply to sections 3345.421, 3345.422, 3345.423, and 3345.424 of the ORC and should be utilized when providing services and support to veterans and service members as required by these sections.
Veterans are defined differently for federal financial aid and VA purposes. Federal definitions apply specifically to those programs and benefits, just as the ORC definitions apply specifically to state-level programs and benefits. Neither set of definitions should be applied broadly.
For additional information on this matter, contact Danny Eakins, Military & Veteran Policy Director at the Ohio Department of Veterans Services at 614.728.4925 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
When are the services and supports outlined within the ORC required to be implemented?
The deadline was December 31, 2014 for the following services and supports: (1) designate a single point of contact (which cannot be the institution’s certifying official), (2) adopt a support and assistance policy, (3) allow the establishment of student-led groups, (4) integrate existing career services, (5) survey student service members and veterans, (6) establish an appeals procedure, and (7) provide priority registration. Also, as of that date, the public institutions were NOT permitted to charge student service members and veterans a fee for credit evaluation, transcription, or application. Finally, by July 1, 2015, institutions must award appropriate credit to service members and veterans for military training, experience and coursework.
For more information, contact Eli Faes at the Ohio Department of Higher Education at 614.728.8856, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can any of these services and supports be applied retroactively?
No retroactive application or expectation is outlined within the ORC or the original legislative language. Yet, while the legislation does not require that these services and supports be applied retroactively, each institution may determine whether retroactive application is appropriate depending upon the service and/or support being considered.
Element 3: Maintains Academic Integrity Within, Across and Among All Institutions
How might faculty assessors prepare for their role in PLA?
Building PLA awareness among faculty members is a process. Some institutions have engaged in one-on-one meetings to build knowledge and expertise, while others have provided knowledge-building opportunities through
Element 3: Maintains Academic Integrity Within, Across and Among All Institutionscenters for teaching excellence. Building PLA contacts and distributing information can help faculty prepare for their role.
See, for example, The University of Toledo’s faculty PLA guide.
Element #4: Improves Portability of Credit Earned
How can OTM, TAGs, CTAGs, and MTAGs help Ohio campuses improve PLA credit portability?
One of the key concepts the Ohio PLA Network endorsed was to adopt and build on the existing credit transfer structures to facilitate the advancement of PLA. There is no need to reinvent a new infrastructure around the transcription and transfer of credit for prior learning since the existing Articulation & Transfer (A/T) system offers a proven model.
The A/T system provides guidelines for guaranteed transfer and application of credit to the degree and major. Essentially, all General Education courses, identified beginning course in majors, such as engineering, technology, science and mathematics, as well as agreed-upon courses in technical programs, are all guaranteed to transfer and apply to the major and degree at public institutions. These statewide course/program equivalency guarantees increase the ability of advisors and students to plan efficient and effective certificate and degree pathways.
For additional helpful information about TAGs, see this page.
How much credit can be earned using PLA?
Institutions usually have a policy on the number of PLA hours a student can generate and count toward a degree. Often the "Residency Requirement" dictates the acceptab
le number of PLA credits because a specific number of hours are required to be taken on campus.
- Columbus State Community College
- Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (out-of-state-resource)
- AAPLE: Assessment and Accreditation Of Prior Learning Experience
- Kent State University
- Miami University
- Ohio University
- The Ohio State University
- Shawnee State University
- University of Akron
- Clark State Community College
- Columbus State Community College
- Cuyahoga Community College
- Eastern Gateway Community College
- Edison State Community College
- Hocking College
- Lakeland Community College
- Lorain County Community College
- Marion Technical College
- North Central State Community College
- Northwest State Community College
- Rio Grande Community College
- Sinclair Community College
- Southern State Community College
- Stark State College
- Terra State Community College
- Zane State College