Credit for Prior Learning


Credit for Prior Learning

Man taking a testTo promote efficiency and help students progress, some states have undertaken efforts to streamline the processes that regulate the provision of credit for prior learning.

Since 2016, at least 19 states have passed legislation relating to credit for prior learning. States are increasingly developing policies that allow students to earn college credit for skills and knowledge gained outside the classroom. This process, which is also known as Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is especially helpful for adult learners who often already possess skills from previous work experiences.

Credit for prior learning can help decrease remediation and reduce time until graduation. A report from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning and sponsored by the Lumina Foundation, found that students who received credit for prior learning saved an average of between 2.5 and 10.1 months in time earning their degrees as opposed to students who did not receive credit. The study also found that among the 62,475 students surveyed who completed the prior learning assessment, 56 percent of students who received credit for prior learning earned a postsecondary degree within seven years, as opposed to only 21 percent of students who did not earn credit.

The American Council on Education has found that credit for prior learning programs are being used to effectively increase degree and certificate attainment especially among adult learners. Students who receive credit for prior learning are also likely to graduate with less student debt than peers who did not receive credit.

State policies for credit for prior learning create consistency among various postsecondary institutions and help students transfer between schools and programs within the state. Most states have relied on higher education agencies or commissions to develop credit for prior learning policies. Some states have even created a specific task force to identify and develop credit for prior learning frameworks.

Policy Questions to Consider 

  • Who will develop credit for prior learning policies? Illinois HB 2404 (2017) requires each public university to submit a policy and procedure for students to earn credit for prior learning to the Board of Higher Education for review and approval. 
  • How will students be informed of credit for prior learning policies and opportunities? Hawaii HB 2639 (2012) created a college-credit equivalency program that requires institutions to develop and publish a list of courses that are eligible for credit and what criteria will be used to award credit.
  • How will the state and institutions ensure access and affordability for credit for prior learning programs? Indiana HB 1281 (2017) allows scholarship and grant funds to be used to pay for the costs of credit for prior learning programs or assessments. 
  • How will the state monitor student participation and use of credit for prior learning opportunities? Oregon HB 4059 (2012) directs the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to track progress and provide reports on the number of students receiving credit for prior learning.

State Policy Approaches 

  • Mississippi HB 1336 (2020) establishes the Learn to Earn Act, requires the State Board of Education, in conjunction with the Department of Employment Security, the Workforce Investment Board, and the Community College Board, to identify high school to work apprenticeships and other student internship programs that may be eligible for exemptions from federal and state labor laws and regulations.
  • Florida HB 7071 (2019) requires the State Board of Education and the Board of Governors to work collaboratively to develop a systematic, cross-sector approach to awarding credit for prior learning.
  • California AB 1786 (2018) requires the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges to establish an initiative to expand the use of credit for prior learning at California Community Colleges. While the title of this bill includes academic credit for military experience, the bill’s scope is not limited to veterans.
  • Idaho SB 1221 (2018) creates new guidance and procedures for how general education credits transfer between postsecondary institutions. The bill also requires postsecondary institutions to provide students with explanations regarding credit transfer and degree requirement equivalencies.
  • Idaho HB 477 (2017) provides college scholarship funds for students who earn postsecondary credits while in high school.
  • Washington SB 6354 (2016) requires state Universities and Colleges to develop plans for the transfer of academic credits from two-year institutions.

Credit for Prior Learning for Veterans

To meet the needs of returning US military veterans as well as reach statewide attainment goals, lawmakers are developing more rigorous and formal processes so veterans can receive college credit for prior learning. Veterans can often take advantage of credit for prior learning programs based on the sets of skills, knowledge, and certifications that they have acquired while in military service. 

Skills learned in the military often span diverse fields including medicine, engineering, and computer programing.  In many cases, service members have already received immense amounts of training in these or other fields. Credit for prior learning programs work to let veterans use skills they already have and put these skills towards degrees or certificates. These programs eliminate redundancies for students and can also save taxpayers money by eliminating the need to pay for educational benefits that veterans have already learned.

In recent years, states have acted to develop increasingly specific and clear guidance for higher education institutions regarding credit transfer and allocation for military veterans. In the past, these policies would often vary from school-to-school, creating a confusing and time-consuming process for many veterans who were trying to receive credit. Many states are now approaching credit for veterans as a policy that needs clear direction from legislators. The most common kind of legislation focuses on creating consistent frameworks and requirements for providing credit for prior learning to veterans. Legislators have also focused on efforts to inform veterans of available credit for prior learning procedures.  

State Policy Approaches

  • Florida HB 171 (2020) requires the Board of Governors and State Board of Education, in consultation with the Department of Veterans Affairs, to create a uniform system for the award of postsecondary credit to certain servicemembers and veterans of the United States Armed Forces, requires the Articulation Coordinating Committee to convene a workgroup by a specified date.
  • Colorado HB 1004 (2017) requires the governing board of each higher education institution to adopt, make public, and implement a prior learning assessment policy for awarding academic credit for college level learning acquired while in the military. Also mandates that colleges and universities provide specific guidance to active duty and veteran military members in selecting a program of study and optimizing prior learning assessment credit.
  • Louisiana SB 132 (2015) provides for the transfer of certain academic credits earned by veterans and their spouses. Also requires each public postsecondary institution to assist veterans and their spouses with advising and expedited transcript analysis.
  • Michigan HB 4060 (2015) requires public universities to inform applicants that have served in the military that they are eligible to receive academic credit for college level training or education they acquired while in the military.
  • Texas SB 1736 (2011) formalizes an initiative called ‘College Credit for Heroes’ between the Texas Workforce Commission and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to develop transfer methods to maximize academic credit to veterans for military experience.

Additional Resources

NCSL Resources

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