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Prior Learning Assessment

Turn Experience into Opportunity

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is a term used to describe learning gained outside a traditional academic environment. Put another way, it's learning and knowledge acquired while living your life. Learning through work, employer training programs, military service, independent study, volunteer or community service, and open source courseware  (MOOC's) are all examples of where knowledge may be acquired. PLA is the evaluation and assessment of an individual's life learning for college credit.

The program includes several ways in which learning can be evaluated including the use of CLEP/DSST exams, AACC departmental exams, ACE evaluations of business, industry and military training, and PLA through the use of portfolios. Below you will find information explaining these methods of getting credit and how to get started.

Attend an information session.

Getting Started
The most important factor is to determine your educational goal and if any credit for which you might be eligible would be applicable to your program of study. This is a very important first step. If you are undecided about your goal, a conversation with a college advisor will help you.

All college work completed at other institutions must be evaluated for transfer  before you can pursue the nontraditional prior learning assessment route.

If you are military and wish to receive credit for your military experience you must submit official transcripts for evaluation. If you have business or industry certifications or have participated in programs that you believe have been evaluated by the American Council on Education for college credit eqivalency, you need to submit documentation to verify your participation in such programs so that any credit can be applied to your program of study. Evaluation of any sponsored learning programs needs to completed by the staff in the records and registration office at AACC, before evaluation of experiential/prior learning can begin.

What are the tools for assessing prior learning?

  • CLEP or DSST exam programs
  • Credit by Departmental Exam
  • Portfolio Assessment

AACC recognizes several College Level Examination Program (CLEP) Exams for evaluating credit for prior learning and DSST exams (formerly known as DANTES.) The advantage to these exams is that they are nationally recognized by many colleges and universities and fairly inexpensive. Each school sets its own policy on required scores. The AACC catalog lists the CLEP exams it recognizes. In subjects which CLEP exams are not available, AACC departmental exams may be available. The exams are graded on a pass/fail basis and will be listed on your academic transcript as transfer of credit. As such it may not transfer to other schools, which is a disadvantage. If CLEP, DSST, and departmental exams are not available, portfolio assessment might be the best option to demonstrate that your experience and knowledge is equivalent to college-level learning. 

What is credit by Portfolio Assessment?
A portfolio is a device in which you collect artifacts and provide documentation that demonstrates that you have acquired college-level learning for an identified AACC course. You reflect on past experiences and how you met the learning outcomes for the course(s) through study, work, and other life experiences which have occurred outside the classroom.

You can earn credit by completing a portfolio and having it assessed by a content experts with expertise in the discipline. AACC will take you through the process step-by-step.  Any credit earned by portfolio is  listed on your transcript as transfer credit. A student can earn a total of 15 credits through these nontraditional transfer methods (credit by departmental exam and credit by portfolio.)

How do you know if this is right for you?
If you are interested in the AACC portfolio assessment program, you can check your eligibility by taking a Self-Assessment. If it appears that you are eligible, contact Fran Turcott at 410-777-2340 with questions about portfolio assessment or any of the information on this page.