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Granting college credit for learning outside the classroom is not new. Since 1942, the American Council on Education has worked with the military to evaluate learning acquired through military education and training. Servicemembers have used Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) for many years to shorten the time toward degree completion.

In addition to assessment of military education and training, PLA includes methods or tools such as portfolio assessments, ACE evaluation of corporate experiences, non-credit program evaluations done by individual colleges, customized exams used by some institutions to verify learning, and stan­dardized exams such as the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), Excelsior College Exams, and DSST Exams.

A recent study of 62,000 students at 48 institutions conducted by The Council for Adult & Experiential Learning (CAEL) confirmed that PLA students have better academic outcomes, primarily in graduation and persis­tence rates, than other adult students.

More than half (56 percent) of PLA students graduated within seven years, while approximately one-fifth (21 percent) of non-PLA students received their postsecondary degrees during the same time period.

CAEL also looked at the persistence rate for those students who did not complete a postsecondary degree within seven years and found that more than half of PLA students had completed 80 percent or more of the credits needed for a degree compared to 22 percent of non-PLA students and sixty percent of non-PLA students did not earn credits beyond the first year of study. In addition, they found that PLA students saved an average of between 2.5 and 10.1 months of time to earn a bachelor’s degree and PLA students saved an average of between 1.5 and 4.5 months of time to earn an associate degree.

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