PLA Handbook Introduction

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What is Prior Learning? 

Prior learning is learning gained through life or work outside of structured higher educational courses. Many people learn through their experiences in life such as those in professional endeavors (business, the military, or other work/training experiences) or through other educational experiences (community work, family, travel, or personal study).

Why has Valdosta State University decided to adopt PLA? 

The administration and faculty at VSU believes that PLA fits with the mission of the University.  The mission of Valdosta State University (VSU) is to:

  • Prepare our students to meet global opportunities and challenges through excellence in teaching and learning.
  • Expand the boundaries of current knowledge, and explore the practical applications of that knowledge, through excellence in scholarship and creative endeavors.
  • Promote the economic, cultural and educational progress of our community and our region, through excellence in service outreach.

VSU seeks to accomplish this mission in a dynamic, student-centered learning environment marked by a respect for diverse abilities, backgrounds, and contributions by all members of the university community.

To better meet this mission, VSU will work with students from diverse backgrounds to evaluate their prior learning and determine if it meets the stands and requirements of college-level learning.

What is Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)? 

PLA is a process through which students identify areas of relevant learning from their past experiences, demonstrate that learning through appropriate documentation, and submit their materials so that they can be assessed and possibly awarded academic credit relative to specific course objectives at VSU.

The Council of Adult and Experiential Learning defines PLA as follows: “The recognition of learning gained from experiences that may be granted credit or otherwise certified… The assessment of learning attained through experiences irrespective of the time and place in which they occurred.” (Assessing Learning, 2nd edition, By Morry Fiddler, Catherine Marienau, and Urban Whitaker p.12)

Who is eligible to participate in PLA?

Prospective students who fit the following criteria are eligible to participate in PLA:

  • they are adults
  • they are non-traditional students
  • they have other learning experiences outside of a traditional college curriculum.

How should interested students determine if PLA is right for them?

Students who believe they might be eligible for PLA should schedule an appointment with VSU’s PLA Counselor.  Dr. Merwin will work with students to determine if their prior learning experiences meet the criteria to earn college credit.

Office: 103 Brookwood Place
Phone: 229-253-2873
Email:  amp@valdosta.edu

What are some ways of earning credit for prior learning?

Broadly speaking, one of the goals of college level education is to prepare responsible, reflective citizens who adapt constructively to change. College-level education also helps students become critical thinkers and problem solvers in an ever-changing world. Students can acquire learning from a variety of sources outside the traditional classroom, and they can earn appropriate credit in their work towards a degree for verifiable college level learning acquired through life or work experience, not for the experience itself. Students who acquire the level of knowledge that meets the expectations and the learning outcomes of a specific course may earn credit for that course, provided the students can demonstrate proficiency in that specific course. Students’ knowledge of materials addressed in a specific course can be assessed in a number of ways:

CLEP

The College-Level Examination Program is administered by the College Board and provides students with the opportunity to demonstrate college-level achievement through a program of examinations in undergraduate college courses. CLEP examinations in five general areas (Composition & Literature,  Foreign Languages, History & Social Sciences, Science & Mathematics, and Business) allow students to demonstrate mastery of material taught in about 30 courses that most students take as requirements in the first two years of college.  A current list of CLEP test areas and minimum scores are available for your information.

AP (Advanced Placement)

The College Board offers 35 examinations across 20 subject areas. Students with appropriate scores on appropriate examinations can get credit for specific courses at VSU (see page 20 of the VSU Undergraduate Catalog 2013-2014).  

Departmental Exams

Students currently enrolled who present satisfactory evidence that they are qualified in a particular subject may receive credit by an examination developed and administered by the appropriate instructional department. Satisfactory evidence may be, but is not limited to, work experience, non-credit courses, course work taken at non-accredited institutions, or military courses. Permission must be obtained from the head of the instructional department offering the course; however, examinations will not be permitted in courses for which a student has previously taken an examination for credit or was previously enrolled at Valdosta State University as a regular or audit student. It is suggested that students check with their advisor and the Registrar’s Office prior to requesting an examination for credit, to ensure that the credit will apply toward their graduation requirements. The credit will be entered in the student's academic record; however, the grade received will not calculate in the semester or cumulative grade point average. Students must pay the Business and Finance Office, in advance of the examination, the current non-refundable fee for credit by examination. The student will show the receipt to the faculty member conducting the examination. The instructional department is responsible for reporting the course number, title, credit hours, and fee receipt to the Registrar’s Office for processing. Failing grades will be reported and posted to the student’s record.

A total of 30 semester hours can be earned through any combination of CLEP, credit by departmental examination, correspondence courses, extension work, PLA and advanced placement. 

Valdosta State University requires students to complete at least thirty (30) hours of courses taken through VSU.

Does PLA meet VSU Residency Requirements?

PLA meets residency requirement rules. Of the 40 semester hours immediately preceding undergraduate graduation, at least 30 must be taken in residence (enrolled) at VSU. Credit hours earned through PLA meet these criteria. For additional information, see information on graduation requirements.

Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Educational Support (DANTES)

VSU will grant credit for DANTES/DSST examinations determined to be equivalent to CLEP. The same score minimums will apply to these tests as the CLEP. CLEP credit will be indicated by a “K” on the student’s transcript. (See the CLEP site for more information.)

ACE Credits

The American Council on Education (ACE) is an organization that provides guidance to colleges and universities on the acceptance of credit. VSU is a member of ACE and honors ACE credits as appropriate for the program of study for students. Students must contact their advisor and the VSU Offices of Admissions for information on documentation of ACE credits and verification of their application to programs of study. 

PLA Documentation Course

If prospective students have other learning experiences that may fit courses not served under one of the above options, they may be advised to sign up for the PLA Documentation course (PLA 2000). This course is the method by which students will develop documentation for the courses for which they hope to earn PLA credit. 

Documentation, as used at Valdosta State University, includes an organized set of verifiable evidence and reflections of prior learning (e.g., skills, letters, recognitions, certifications, and experiences) for which one seeks credit. 

The PLA Documentation Course will be offered online. Students will learn how to develop the appropriate documentation sets for the classes for which they wish to seek credit.  By the end of the semester, they should have materials ready to submit to faculty assessors from the program in which they are seeking credit.

What are the National Criteria for Quality Assurance in Assessing Learning for Credit? 

  • Credit or its equivalent will be awarded only for learning, and not for experience.

  • Assessment should be based on standards and criteria for the level of acceptable learning.

  • Assessment should be treated as an integral part of learning, not separate from it, and should be based on an understanding of learning processes.

  • The determination of credit awards and competence levels must be made by appropriate subject matter and academic or credentialing experts.

  • Credit or other credentialing will be appropriate to the academic context in which it is awarded and accepted. The program of study and the student’s major, i.e., core, upper-division, or graduate, of the student determines the “academic context.”

Adapted From:

Morry Fiddler, Catherine Marieneau & Urban Whitaker. Assessing Learning: Standards, Principles, & Procedures. Chicago: CAEL (Council for Adult and Experiential Learning), 2006.

For more information, visit the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) website.

What are the advantages of PLA?

PLA will reduce the repetition of relevant course-related material for students with prior learning (or with prior degrees).  The documentation course will also help students who have not been in college before or who have not been in college recently to reacquaint themselves with college learning and expectations.

PLA will also reduce the time and money required to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree although it will require the investment of both. Certain PLA components require fees such as testing (e.g., departmental examinations and standardized tests) and portfolio assessment. However, in general, PLA should take less time and money to complete than taking regular classes.

By evaluating prior learning, VSU verifies that the particular learning of students was important and was at the college level. Most importantly, PLA enables students to gain greater insight about themselves.

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Preface, Introduction, Description of Courses

Preface & Acknowledgements (Provides background information on the development of the PLA Program at VSU)

Introduction

Description of Courses

PLA Documentation Course Information