Policy Brief on How Higher Education Accreditors Address PLA

A recent policy brief by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) titled, “Holding Tight or at Arm’s Length: How Higher Education Regional Accrediting Bodies Address PLA” explores the role of regional accrediting organizations in shaping institutional policies and practices related to prior learning assessment or PLA. The full text of the policy brief is available here.

PLA, which is typically described as the process by which higher education institutions or other organizations assess a person’s learning gained outside the traditional academic setting, is an important strategy for increasing degree completion rates by adults with prior college credit. The research examines the policies of the six regional accreditors – Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSACS), New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), North Central Association of College and Schools (NCA) under which the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accredits degree-granting colleges and universities, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) – and found that while all six have policies related to PLA, there are considerable differences between them. Specifically, some policies give the institutions a great deal of latitude with respect to decisions about PLA, while others provide much less flexibility. Further, institutions vary in terms of how they apply the accreditors’ PLA guidelines to the different types of PLA (e.g., portfolio versus CLEP).


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