You may be closer to completing your degree than you think! 

You may not have ever heard of Prior Learning Assessment (PLA). But knowing what it is—and how to get it—can help you finish college sooner. It can also save you money! 

PLA involves evaluating a student’s prior knowledge or skills to see if they qualify for college credit. If you can show that you’ve already mastered the subject matter, FRCC (and some other colleges) are willing to grant you credit for what you already know. 

The college can even assess the knowledge or skills that you’ve acquired outside of a traditional academic environment. This could be prior learning acquired from: 

People working at computer
  • Work and life experiences 
  • Community and volunteer extension courses 
  • Individual study and reading 
  • Civic, community and volunteer work 
  • Participation in informal courses and training sponsored by associations, business, government or industry 

How PLA Helps Students 

PLA is associated with better outcomes for students—students who earn these credits are more likely to graduate, according to a study by WICHE and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. It can also save them quite a bit of money and time along their way to a degree or certificate. 

When students accumulate credits for work they’ve already done, it helps propel them toward graduation. It can also give students a sense of validation knowing that their existing knowledge is valued. This leads to improved motivation for many students who earn PLA. 

How Do We Figure Out What You Already Know? 

To earn credit for your prior learning, you need to demonstrate that you’ve mastered the required competencies of a course. There are four main tools that colleges like FRCC use to gauge what you’ve previously learned.  

Here are those options: 

Outside Exams 

These are existing tests—administered by organizations outside of FRCC—some of which you may already have heard of. Typical examinations that can qualify for college credit include things like: 

  • College Level Examination Program (CLEP) 
  • Advanced Placement (AP) 
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program 
  • DANTES Subject Standardized Test (DSST) Credit by Exam Program 

Institution-Led Challenge Exams 

These are tests developed and administered by academic departments or faculty to assess learning. At FRCC, we work with teachers in the appropriate program to determine what the test should look like. 

The exam is equivalent to a comprehensive exam—such as a final—that assesses all competencies/outcomes of the course you want credit for. The format of these exams may be written, oral, demonstration… or a combination of all three. 

Portfolio Assessment 

You can also submit a portfolio of your work to be evaluated by college faculty. Portfolios may include any of the other PLA credit methods, as well as individual skills demonstrations, and/or narratives documenting learning.  

To get college credit, prior learning submitted in a portfolio should: 

  • Be demonstrable 
  • Include both theoretical and applied components 
  • Be at the college level 
  • Be equivalent to a specific college course or courses in the student’s program of study 

Military Training 

FRCC can also look at transferring military training credit. For more information on that, check in with our Veterans Services team.  

Equity Gaps: PLA Can Help Provide a Level Playing Field 

scales of justice

Students who apply for and earn PLA are more likely to complete a college credential—like a professional certificate or degree—than non-PLA students. (Data shows this to be true for adult students of all races, ethnicities, and income levels.)  

PLA may help close equity gaps, provided that access to credit through these methods is provided equitably. 

Example: Early Childhood Education 

One of the ways that FRCC is providing this equitable and accessible opportunity is through our Early Childhood Education (ECE) program. This department has created an institution-led challenge exam to assess what students may already know in this arena. 

woman reading with toddler

The ECE program now offers a fully online challenge exam for its course in infant and toddler theory and practice. This exam gives students the opportunity to earn credit for job training, professional experience and other activities outside the classroom!  

How PLA Helped Miles 

Miles Holcomb (pronouns they/them) is currently studying ECE at FRCC—and has taken a lot of classes online, which they love. “Online classes allow me to gain practical knowledge and tools while still having the freedom to work during the day and practice those skills in the field.”  

Miles used PLA to get credit toward their associate degree. They already work in childcare and earned three credits by passing the challenge exam, which expedited their completion time by a whole semester.  

“I was so impressed with the opportunity to take an online challenge exam for class credit,” Miles says. “It was convenient to set up and saved me so much time, money and effort.”  

“Instead of sitting through classes where I felt ahead, I could focus on courses where the content was new and exciting to me. I would highly recommend taking a challenge exam to anyone at FRCC.” 

FRCC students who haven’t yet completed ECE 1111—and would like more information regarding the Online Challenge Exam—should contact an online pathways advisor to get the process started. 

For information about transferring any other type of credit, contact the advising department at your campus. We can also answer your questions about how PLA works and/or point you in the right direction for your specific area of study.  

Interested in PLA? We’d love to hear from you!  

Contact us at: or 303-404-5513 

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