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PLA Resources for Administrators

Administrators - Use Prior Learning Assessment to Reach Adult Learners

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) refers to the variety of methods that postsecondary institutions use to evaluate a student's extra-institutional learning for college-level credit.

Recognition of college-level experiential learning, which is derived from work, structured internships, or other life experience, may facilitate a student's progress without compromising an institution's academic integrity or the quality of its degrees.

An institution's policies and procedures should provide appropriate consideration consistent with good educational practice for the student who has gained college-level learning from other sources.

Use the information below to learn more about PLA practices throughout Pennsylvania and the country and find out which institutions in the Commonwealth share a commitment to the PLA initiative. You may also visit the FAQs for Students and Administrators.


Pennsylvania Prior Learning Assessment Consortium

The Pennsylvania Prior Learning Assessment Consortium is a group of postsecondary institutions in the Commonwealth that have agreed to abide by, fully implement, and oversee the
Prior Learning Assessment General Guidelines (PDF) developed by the Department of Education with cooperation from more than 30 higher education institutions, non-profit groups, and the Department of Labor and Industry.

The goal of the Consortium is to proactively advance PLA accessibility, validity, and transferability by providing guidance, standards, and resources to implement PLA in consistent ways across the Commonwealth. The guidelines detail the recommended transfer and acceptance of prior learning credit between and among institutions participating in the Consortium.

For a list of PA PLA Consortium members and the types of PLA offered at each, visit the PLA Consortium page.

Want to be a PLA Consortium member?

Don't wait! Review the
PLA Brochure (PDF) and return the PLA Consortium Agreement (PDF) today. Membership is free and begins immediately upon receipt of your institution's signed agreement.

For more information, contact Rod Niner in the Bureau of Postsecondary Services at PDE at (717) 787-4313 or email rniner@pa.gov.

PLA Standards and Guidelines

Although there are a variety of ways to assess experiential learning for credit, there are common practices institutions follow to assure that the assessments are rigorous and consistent. 

Members of the PLA Consortium adhere to the recommended practices and standards for the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The Middle States' standards are as follows:

Fundamental Elements of Experiential Learning
An accredited institution is expected to possess or demonstrate the following attributes or activities:

  • credit awarded for experiential learning that is supported by evidence in the form of an evaluation of the level, quality and quantity of that learning;
  • published and implemented policies and procedures defining the methods by which prior learning can be evaluated and the level and amount of credit available by evaluation;
  • published and implemented policies and procedures regarding the award of credit for prior learning that define the acceptance of such credit based on the institution's curricula and standards;
  • published and implemented procedures regarding the recording of evaluated prior learning by the awarding institution;
  • credit awarded appropriate to the subject and the degree context into which it is accepted; and
  • evaluators of experiential learning who are knowledgeable about the subject matter and about the institution's criteria for the granting of college credit.

Institutions and evaluators must consider the totality that is created by the fundamental elements and any other relevant institutional information or analysis. Fundamental elements and contextual statements should not be applied separately as checklists. Where an institution does not possess or demonstrate evidence of a particular Fundamental Element, the institution may demonstrate through alternative information and analysis that it meets the standard.

Source: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools

PLA Best Practices

Use the links below to learn more about PLA policies and practices being used to benefit students in Pennsylvania and across the country.

State PLA Practices

Pennsylvania Institutional PLA Practices

PLA References and Resources

PLA Accreditation Standards

Background Documents

Articles and Reports

"Where Life Earns Credit"

Fostering Economic Recovery Through Postsecondary Education

"The 'Prior Learning' Edge" The New CAEL Study

PLA Fueling the Race (PDF)

What Price PLA? The Financial Implications to the Institution of Awarding Credit for Prior Learning Assessment (PDF) - by Linda F. Fonte (2008)

Toward a Stronger Pennsylvania Workforce: Keeping Pennsylvania Competitive, Creating Opportunity (PDF) - by Pennsylvania's Pathways to Advancement Policy Academy Team (Feb 2005)

For additional information, please contact:

Division of Higher & Career Education |
Pennsylvania Department of Education - Postsecondary and Adult Education
333 Market Street, 12th Fl | Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333
Phone: 717.783.8228 | Fax: 717.722.3622
ra-collunivseminfo@pa.gov | www.education.state.pa.us