International Success in Adult Prior Assessment and Learning

A 2006 study by the Council on Adult Experiential Learning (CAEL) on the use of assessment of prior college-level learning as a means of acquiring college credit found that 87 percent of responding institutions accepted College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams, 84 percent accepted Advanced Placement credits, 70 percent accepted credit for corporate or military training (evaluated by the American Council on Education), and 66 percent made provisions for faculty evaluation of student portfolios demonstrating prior college level learning (Klein-Collins and Hein 2009, 187). While portfolio evaluation was not the most common form of prior learning assessment (PLA), an increase in acceptance of this method can be seen when compared to previous studies conducted by CAEL in 1996 (when 55 percent of institutions reported use of portfolios) and in 1991 (when 50 percent of institutions reported use) (Klein-Collins and Hein 2009, 188).

A more recent CAEL report, Fueling the Race to Postsecondary Success: A 48-Instution Study of Prior Learning Assessment and Adult Student Outcomes (Klein-Collins 2010), addresses faculty concerns about adult students getting “credit for life experience” by focusing on a study conducted by CAEL on student outcomes. Based on over 62,000 academic records of adult students from a geographically diverse institutional sample from forty-six percent public institutions, the study showed that 50 percent private of nonprofit institutions and 4 percent of for-profit institutions describe several positive outcomes for students who earned credit through prior learning assessment, when compared with students who did not make use of PLA (6–7, 12). Adult students who earned credit for prior learning were more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree within seven years—43 percent—in comparison to 15 percent of non-PLA students (7). Focusing only on the approximately 50 percent of students who matriculated in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, the study found that 58 percent of PLA students were successful in achieving that goal, compared to only 27 percent of non-PLA students (35).

Research on Adult Learners: Supporting the Needs of a Student Population that Is No Longer NontraditionalBy: Jovita M. Ross-Gordon

Differences in degree completion between PLA and non-PLA students were also found when controlling for GPA—66 percent of PLA students with GPAs of 3.0 or above completed degrees, compared to 35 percent of non-PLA students with similar GPAs (37). Furthermore, dramatic differences in graduation rates were reported between PLA and non-PLA students for both Hispanic and black students, with 40 percent of black PLA students completing bachelor’s degrees compared to 17 percent of black non-PLA students, and 47 percent of Hispanic PLA students completing bachelor’s degrees compared to 6 percent of Hispanic non-PLA students (50). These CAEL report findings suggest that providing opportunities for prior learning assessment may have a substantial effect on adult student persistence.

Courses, certificates, and degrees designed to be completed in a shorter time frame and in which either course duration or contact hours may be modified are learning formats that tend to be more responsive to adult learners’ lives (Wlodkowski 2003). Although these intensive learning experiences are sometimes criticized as formats that prioritize convenience over rigor and sacrifice breadth and depth, a number of studies indicate that adult learning in accelerated courses is comparable to or better than that of younger students enrolled in conventional courses. For instance, Wlodkowski reports a qualitative study indicating that intensive courses “became rewarding and powerful learning experiences when certain attributes were present…These attributes included instructor enthusiasm and expertise (usually gained through experience), active learning, classroom interaction, good course organization, student input, a collegial classroom atmosphere, and a relaxed environment” (9) When adult students in accelerated courses are compared with younger students in conventional versions of the same types of courses, both groups of students generally have shown positive and similar attitudes toward their courses. Finally, when attitudes of alumni toward accelerated courses in management, human resource management, and corporate finance were assessed, their perceptions were nearly as positive as current students who responded to the same survey.