Earn credit for what you know, no matter where you learned it.
by Kelly Jenkins Lin
Richard Rago had been working in construction and project management for 10 years before he decided to return to school.
“I was passed over for a promotion,” he explains, “not because I didn’t have experience but because I didn’t have a degree. That was the push I needed.” At first, his goal was to earn an associates degree from Wentworth but, in 2009, with encouragement from faculty in the College of Professional and Continuing Education, he enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Project Management.
That was when Rago discovered how valuable his job experience was. “One of my professors recognized that I had learned many of the skills and theories we were studying in class on the job, and that I knew more than most.” Rago says. “He told me I should try to get credit for it. So, I did.”
Through a process called Prior Learning Assessment, or PLA, Rago was able to earn enough credits to finish his program a semester early. He completed his bachelor’s degree in 2013 and then went on to complete a Master of Science in Facility Management in 2015. “It was definitely worth it,” Rago says of his experience.
What is Prior Learning Assessment?
These days, Richard Rago is not alone. A number of working adults are finding that, without a degree, they are limited in how far they can advance in their career. But, without any college experience, many are concerned about the length of time, and money, needed to complete a degree. For them, as for Rago, there is hope.
Prior Learning Assessment, lets students, like Richard Rago, earn credit for learning experiences that took place outside of the classroom—on the job, in the military, or as part of a standardized test or employee training program. The idea behind PLA is to build on the wealth of experience working adults bring to the classroom, to help these students–many of whom work full time while attending school part-time–get to their degree faster and for less money. And it appears to be working.
The Benefits of PLA
According to a 2010 survey conducted by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), students with PLA credits have greater persistence and shorter time to degree than students without. Further, students with PLA credits were two-and-a-half times more likely to graduate than students without such credits.  Not only are students motivated to save time and money, but the recognition they receive through PLA builds their confidence and motivates many to persist and complete their degree and even, as Rago did, go on to complete more advanced degrees and training.
In Richard Rago’s case, in addition to credit for on-the-job learning, he was able to get credit for OSHA training he had completed as well as his Construction Supervisor’s License, giving him 9 credits or the equivalent of 3 classes. “The experiences that you’ve had over the years are applicable,” he says. “If you have experience already you should make sure the school and instructors know because you might be able to get credit for it.”
Proving that what you know matters, no matter where you learned it.
In part 2 of this post, we will look at how Prior Learning Assessment works and what someone with learning experiences that took place outside of the classroom should do to get the credit they deserve.
This post was prepared with assistance from Christine Bettendorf and Ke’Anna Skipwith.
 Klein-Collins, Rebecca. Fueling the Race to Post-Secondary Success: A 48-Institution Study of Prior Learning Assessment and Adult Student Outcomes. Chicago: Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. Accessed 6/5/18 at http://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/617695/premium_content_resources/pla/PDF/PLA_Fueling-the-Race.pdf