Adult learners like these four can get college credit for their life experience through Prior Learning Assessment
Get credit for being you! Sierra Nevada College's Prior Learning Assessment course gives you college credit for your life experience.

Prior Learning Assessment and Your College Degree

By Dr. Mark Atkinson

Years ago, I designed and taught a course about the history of higher education in the US. Long before football teams, study abroad, tenured faculty and all the rest, at heart early American colleges were teaching organizations whose mission was to serve our new country with an endowment of knowledge and skills. I hope that is still the case.

The young America of the 17th and 18th centuries greatly needed clergy, politicians, and other professionals. The early colonial colleges provided just that and more over time. In the 19th century, many modern public universities began as “normal” schools, to train high school graduates to teach using norms of pedagogy and curriculum. These teacher training schools established “norms” for education that produced a reliably skilled, reproducible workforce. Such schools evolved from basic workforce training to become the research universities of the 20th century.

Why Should I Go to College?

These days some in America are asking, “What value does a college education have for me?” I say the value is high, even though it’s not the only way to success. Some well-known companies advertise they will consider applicants without a degree, even for technical jobs that one would assume need a formal college education. Regardless, a college degree is still, in my opinion, one of the best ways to go, even when working in a vocational field. College degree holders find lower levels of unemployment and better opportunities for advancement. Completing a college education hones the skills adult learners have acquired through experience, and gives them new skillsets for the workplace of the future.

What if you didn’t go to college? What if you started and didn’t finish? What if, instead, you became a contractor, a certified nursing assistant, a chef, a cosmetologist, or something else that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree? All workers make tremendous contributions to America. Everyone is important. The answer to every “what if” here, though, is that a college degree demonstrates a wider range of important skills. It enhances your ability to contribute, and to secure the future for yourself and those around you on every level.

How Can “Prior Learning Assessment” Help Me?

Whether you are starting new or continuing after a timeout, Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) may be a great way to advance yourself toward a college degree. PLA is the formal practice of awarding college credit for prior learning. Two American organizations promote and encourage standards for granting college credit related to prior learning: the American Council on Education (ACE), and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).

The American Council on Education recommends offering credit for the following learning activities: workplace training, military training and service, independent study, professional certifications, national examinations such as CLEP, civic activities, and volunteer service. Recent research has shown that students who receive credit for prior learning have higher college participation and completion rates. Your experience matters to you. It can and should be incorporated when you return to complete your college education.

Get Credit for Being You!

Sierra Nevada College offers its students the ability to petition for up to 15 upper division elective credits for prior learning. The prior learning must be substantive, and supported with evidence provided in an ePortfolio. SNC helps adult learners build their ePortfolio in a 7-week online Prior Learning Assessment Course that prepares students to petition for their credits. This single 7-week online course can reduce the time and cost of completing your college education by as much as a full semester.

Given the importance of a college education for your future, the current recognition of the value of learning outside university courses, and the labor market, PLA is a great option for eligible students.

Dr. Mark Atkinson, Vice President for Academic Extension at Sierra Nevada CollegeDr. Mark Atkinson
Vice President for Academic Extension at Sierra Nevada College


The Prior Learning Assessment program at SNC Tahoe is
  • Convenient: 100% online
  • Concise: only seven weeks
  • College credit: 1 – 15 Upper Division elective course credits awarded on completion
  • Pass/Fail
  • Affordable: $800 tuition with no additional per-credit charges

I’m interested!

How does Prior Learning Assessment credit work at Sierra Nevada College Work?

The Prior Learning Assessment program helps adult learners earn their bachelor’s degree sooner by granting them college credit for many kinds of work experience, professional training, and community service. Our goal is to find the ways that your prior experiences can help you professionally in your future.

Going back to school after a break can be a challenge – we’re here to help.

The first step is to meet with one of our PLA enrollment advisors, who will help you figure out

  • how many elective credits you need,
  • how many of those credits you could qualify for through PLA, and
  • make sure those credits will apply to your program.

If you are not already a student at SNC, they can guide you through the application process. Once you enroll, you will be closely mentored as you build your ePortfolio in the Prior Learning Assessment Course.

What experiences can qualify me for Prior Learning Assessment credit?
  • At least three years of post-high school work experience.
  • Work experience with leadership or management duties.
  • Current or former member of the armed forces.
  • Formal training as part of a job.
  • Attendance at professional seminars or conferences.
  • Completion of formal non-credit courses or programs.
  • Earned certificates, endorsements, or licenses for a professional field.
  • Extensive foreign country experience or travel experience since high school.
  • Extensive community work or volunteer experience.
What are the admission requirements for the Prior Learning Assessment Course?
  • SNC Student in good standing (either ongoing or newly admitted)
  • Minimum GPA of 2.0
  • Declared a major
What will my Prior Learning Assessment ePortfolio contain?
  1. Prior Learning Petition
  2. Educational and Professional Goals
  3. Resume and LinkedIn Profile
  4. Connections: Experiences to SNC Learning Outcomes
  5. Analysis of Learning
  6. Evidence

1. The Prior Learning Assessment Petition
The Prior Learning Assessment Petition is a formal request that describes what the learner is seeking and why. It is a summary and call to action, and an executive summary of the entire ePortfolio.

2. Educational and Professional Goals Essay
This essay is a statement of the learner’s plans to incorporate prior learning in the context of their educational and professional goals. The essay explains how this learning will facilitate accomplishment of their stated goals.

A compelling essay clearly states immediate and long-range goals, and then shows a connection to the past in a meaningful and substantive way. Other parts of the portfolio will gradually become more and more specific about the past learning gained. The essay should answer the following questions:

  • What the learner intends to accomplish professionally and educationally in the next ten years, expressed in goals.
  • Skills and knowledge needed to achieve the goals.
  • Relevant learning already acquired as a result of through professional experiences.
  • Further learning needed to achieve the goals.

3. The Resume and LinkedIn Profile
A detailed, updated resume and profile on LinkedIn is part of the Prior Learning Assessment ePortfolio. The profile serves as an outline of history for previous work and educational experience. The resume is a reference point for the Analysis of Learning and Evidence sections of the ePortfolio.

4. Connections: Experiences to SNC Learning Outcomes
Once the list of SNC learning goals is complete, the student analyzes in-depth the learning gained what they have already learned in a systematic, organized way. The purpose is to communicate clearly the connections between past experiences and particular learning outcomes. A learning analysis is the heart of making these connections.

5. Analysis of Learning
The analysis section is a highly detailed description with an explanation of the experiences connecting SNC learning outcomes and professional expertise. The analysis uses the following structure:

  • Defining Learning Outcomes
  • Explaining Skills and Knowledge Gained
  • Demonstration
  • Description of Learning Setting
  • Specific Connection to Academic and Professional Goals

6. Evidence
The final step in preparing the Prior Learning Assessment ePortfolio is gathering and organizing documentation. Documentation is evidence that prior learning experiences identified in the resume and the analysis of prior learning activities.
Documentation verifies:

  • Employment
  • Volunteering
  • In-service training and non-credit courses
  • Community services
  • Accomplishments, especially products from your past learning experiences.

Letters of verification are a common form of documentation. Several other types of support may be appropriate for the Prior Learning Assessment ePortfolio.

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