Published on 2013/05/10

Three Ways the Federal Government Could Better Promote PLA

Three Ways the Federal Government Could Better Promote PLA
As higher education becomes increasingly critical for success in the labor market, the federal government should take the lead in ensuring adults can earn a degree in the shortest amount of time possible.

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is the practice of awarding college credit for college-level learning obtained from life and work experiences. These experiences can be gained from a variety of sources, including but not limited to: work experience, military service, volunteer activities, job training programs, certification programs and various forms of independent study. PLA provides several benefits for adults who wish to re-enroll in higher education.

One of the most obvious benefits is a reduction in tuition costs associated with higher education. Individuals able to leverage PLA credits can save money by taking fewer college courses. Also, fewer courses can mean less time to graduation, which is important for adults with work and family obligations. Finally, some studies show adults who utilize PLA credits have higher retention and graduation rates. Not only does PLA save money for individuals, the process could also help address budget shortfalls for federal and local governments.

The aforementioned benefits, in addition to budget constraints faced by the federal government, present a compelling case for federal involvement with PLA, and here are three ways they could really take the lead.

1. Provide adults with more information on PLA

Initial federal involvement with PLA could begin with providing information to individuals about the benefits and methods for PLA during the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. Many individuals fill out this form because it is used by federal and state governments along with higher education institutions to determine financial aid needs. PLA information could be included on the FAFSA or on the website that contains the application. Yet, some will argue that not all individuals complete a FAFSA, which might not help the government achieve maximum exposure for PLA.

2. Make accepting PLA a mandatory requirement for federal financial aid eligibility

One way to address the issue that all students don’t fill out a FAFSA is for the federal government to have higher education institutions provide information about PLA. The federal government could accomplish this by requiring the marketing of PLA materials at all schools that receive federal funds. Additionally, the federal government could also require higher education institutions to accept PLA credits in order to be eligible for federal funds. However, the lack of standardization for PLA and corresponding credits will need to be addressed if the majority of schools will be expected to conform to the process. This is another area where our federal government should take the lead.

3. Create a set of nationally-accepted standards for PLA

In order for PLA to work for individuals and higher education institutions alike, there need to be nationally-defined standards for PLA. Perhaps the federal government could take the lead by forming a task force comprised of nonprofit and higher education leaders. Since some organizations such as the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning have already accomplished a substantial amount in this area, they could also be involved with leading this kind of task force. What would be most important is the federal government’s ability to enforce the accepted criteria for PLA.

At a time when re-enrolling in higher education is prohibitive for many adults due to escalating costs and rising debt, our federal government can’t afford to maintain the status quo. By supporting PLA efforts on a national level, many individuals that might not have been able to return to college will finally have the ability to obtain their degrees.

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Readers Comments

Eric Csergo 2013/05/10 at 9:32 am

What Williams proposes is a good start for institutions: accepting PLA credits as equivalencies, thereby making it easier for returning students to complete their degrees. However, this is only a drop in the bucket in terms of what is needed to make higher education accessible for adult students. Once these adult learners who receive PLA credits get into the program, they’re still largely expected to complete the traditional curriculum. Those PLA credits may have only saved them a few courses. Perhaps the federal government should be more focused on bigger-impact initiatives such as competency-based education to help improve adult students’ experiences in the postsecondary system.

Belinda Chang 2013/05/13 at 8:32 am

Williams correctly identifies the need for federal involvement in improving the PLA process. Nationally-accepted standards are critical, especially in an age where online education can cross state boundaries and where satellite campuses in other states are common. Federal standards will ensure students across the country are being treated fairly.

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