MADISON, Wis.— The University of Wisconsin System is expanding its Prior Learning Assessment programming, with the support of an $800,000, four-year grant from Lumina Foundation for Education.

Prior Learning Assessment, which is already used in different forms across the UW System, measures the learning a student may have attained outside the classroom through corporate training, work experience, military service, civic activity, and independent study.

By providing college credit for such experiences, UW System hopes to enroll more non-traditional adult students, including returning veterans and adults who previously attended a UW institution but departed prior to completing a degree. The expanded initiative will also focus on the transferability of PLA credits across campuses.

At least nine UW System institutions will eventually pilot the new standards. First, UW faculty members will lead the development of core academic principles and guidelines underpinning the PLA process, to ensure that the highest academic standards are maintained.

“With our focus on reaching out to working adults, this initiative offers a significant opportunity for more Wisconsin residents to get on a pathway toward a college degree, by recognizing the value of their previous learning experiences. In doing that, the initiative also supports the UW System’s Growth Agenda for Wisconsin, and our efforts to increase the number of well-prepared college degree-holders in the state,” said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly.

A variety of strategies are used for prior learning assessments, including widely known standardized testing such as the high school Advance Placement exams, testing for non-traditional students such as the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), departmental challenge exams, and individualized student portfolios or interviews.

In 2008-09, an estimated 300 UW System non-traditional adult students took one or more CLEP exams, and another estimated 500 used other means to receive credit for prior learning. With support from Lumina Foundation, the UW System hopes to achieve significant increases, working toward a goal of 1,600 assessments by the year 2015.

A 2010 study by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) indicates that adult students who receive credit through Prior Learning Assessment may be more likely to persist and complete their higher education degree than those who do not receive such credit, because the PLA may help them earn credits faster and at a lower cost. In that study more than half (56%) of students who received some college credit through a PLA went on to earn their college degree within seven years, while only 21% of non-PLA students did so in the same timeframe. PLA students completed their bachelor’s degrees 2½ to 10 months faster.

Last month, UW System institutions secured funding from Lumina Foundation and the Institute for Higher Education Policy for the “Win-Win” initiative, another strategy to grow the number of people with college degrees. Win-Win identifies students previously enrolled in college who have not completed a degree and either awards them a retroactive associate degree or works to re-enroll them to complete their degree.

Lumina Foundation for Education is an Indianapolis-based private foundation dedicated to expanding access to and success in education beyond high school.

See Lumina Foundation’s news release.

Media Contact

David Giroux UW System (608) 262-4464