On Thursday, I participated in a webinar on Prior Learning Assessment (PLA). PLA is a collective term for a series of processes through which students can earn credits to prove that they have mastered the skills taught in a particular course. For example, if given the opportunity, an experienced office manager who has never attended a university may drop out of the “Introduction to Computer” course.

The purpose of the PLA awarding credits is to shorten the path for students to graduate, thereby reducing time and costs. Obviously, students who earn credits through PLA are more likely to graduate than students who don’t. The host of the webinar referred to the People’s Liberation Army as the “lost leader”, which means that the credits “gifted” in advance are not only made up of the credits obtained on the way to graduation, otherwise they will not be earned at all.

This is a fruitful webinar and I am glad I was there. However, later I couldn’t help but wonder why the PLA registrations for different flavors were so different.

For example, AP and IB exams are essentially PLA forms, and many of the country’s most prestigious colleges and universities use them. Some universities offer actual credits, while others only allow grouping—skip the introduction course and replace it with a higher-level course—but still show some basic respect for the exam. Although AP and IB do not have age requirements, as far as I know, they are usually attended by traditional-age students who are still in high school. When people talk about PLA, they usually don’t mean AP or IB.

The CLEP and DSST exams have similar functions, although they are little known. CLEP exams are usually taken by students above high school; with my limited experience, DSST is often related to the military. Both are nationally recognized mechanisms through which students can “test” certain courses. For example, a native Spanish speaker may “CLEP out” from a Spanish course to earn some credits for a degree. Compared with AP or IB, CLEP and DSST are more commonly considered PLA.

In some disciplines, it is more common to see more customized measures. These may include challenge exams, auditions or portfolios written by the department. For example, at a previous university, we had an application for a veteran who had worked as a photographer in the army. He submitted his portfolio and was exempted from taking an introductory photography course. Given the nature of the subject and work, portfolios are more meaningful than standardized tests. For universities that are concerned about conflicts of interest when scoring their portfolios, CAEL provides strict screening by an objective third party.

In my opinion, these are different flavors of the same thing. But their treatment in different departments is very different.

For example, for AP and IB, different schools may have different scores, but almost everyone accepts them in one way or another. (For example, for AP, we give a score of 3 and above, but Rutgers University only gives a score of 4 and above. Yes, this will cause problems when transferring.) But more customized forms of PLA will be transferred when transferring There will be more resistance.

Ideally, they should be treated the same way. If we prove that students have reached the goal of the introductory hypothetical research, then this should be treated like we gave students a B in the introductory hypothetical research.

I can’t help but wonder whether the different receptions reflect the personal data of the students taking each type of exam. Students who apply for the quota often took many AP or IB classes in high school, so they are familiar with the exam. Students who take the CLEP exam or submit a portfolio completed at work in their 20s and 30s are different from the students usually accepted in selective places. The measured learning outcomes are the same, but the respect shown is often different.

As a department, community colleges are looking for ways to be more open to (and about) PLA options. This is part of our equity work. But we need our four-year partners to stand up and do the same. Otherwise, we are just postponing disappointment.



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