Prior learning assessment (PLA) is the process of evaluating learning that is acquired outside a higher education institution and awarding it equivalent college credit. Colleges and policymakers have been working to build these opportunities for 80 years. Unfortunately, despite years of investment in policies and programs to support PLA, it has failed to take root. This report is a systematic review of how PLA has been implemented. It shows that, despite plenty of positive policy development, student use of PLA opportunities remains low.


Based on our interviews and reviews of PLA project evaluations, we offer these recommendations to help colleges create more effective PLA programs: 

Build advising capacity and credential paths with automatic opportunities for PLA

  • Integrate information about PLA into recruitment.
  • Integrate conversations about PLA into the first student advising session.
  • Help students connect college-level learning to their programs of study.

Collect and analyze data on PLA

  • Collect data on the use of PLA with agreed-upon definitions among institutions.
  • Include PLA in data systems and report on the students who use it.

Focus on context-appropriate PLA

  • Make PLA as automatic as possible for students.
  • Align PLA with specific programs of study and the students it will benefit.

Work to change the college culture

  • Achieve strong buy-in by involving leadership early.
  • Involve key faculty and advisers in planning and program development.
  • Provide extensive training for faculty and staff.

Change the financial incentives for PLA

  • States offer little incentive for institutions to award credits through PLA, typically partial FTE or performance funding.
  • Consider how PLA can improve recruitment and enrollment rather than worry about forgone tuition revenue.
  • Include students who receive PLA credits in departmental budget allocations.

Create consistent PLA policy across the college, system, and state

  • Convene colleges to create a consistent PLA policy on credit transfers, student fees, and other relevant factors.
  • Work with states and systems to clarify PLA policies.