Credit for Prior Learning Initiative

Many non-traditional students (adults age 25+) come to California community colleges with skills gained through military, workplace, and civic experiences. They hold industry credentials, are graduates of public service academies, and were trained for military occupations. At a time when our Vision for Success goals demand us to increase certificate and degree completion and reduce achievement gaps, helping students get through faster is a win for colleges and students alike. Credit for prior learning (CPL) is a strategy to help students get credit for what they already know and can do, saving them time and money on their educational path. Research indicates that students who earn CPL:

  • are roughly twice as likely to complete a degree than those who do not;
  • accumulate more credits through coursework at the institution than their counterparts, which translates to increased enrollment for colleges;
  • save an average of 6-10 months in time to degree compared to their non-CPL counterparts.

With Vision for Success goals and related metrics in the new Student Centered Funding Formula, focus is increasing on readying colleges for the unique needs and contributions of non-traditional students. The population is broad—they comprise 43% of our student population, and in California there are more than 6 million potential students with a high school diploma but no degree. More than half of them are people of color. The time is right to expand CPL in our colleges – to help students complete a quality program faster, to increase our colleges’ value proposition and confer significant economic and equity benefits to students, colleges, and the state. This initiative is about building capacity in the system to do that.

With expanded credit for prior learning in California Community Colleges, students will experience a better sense that their previous learning has value. Perhaps more importantly, they will know that we value it.

– CPL Advisory Committee member

Credit for prior learning practice varies widely in California Community Colleges. Many colleges will consider awarding credit for military training (81%, according to a 2018 survey of all campuses), while considerably fewer will award credit for workplace training (13%). College staff report that they currently use the following methods to assess prior learning:

Prior learning assessment methodDescription
Credit by Exam (Title 5, Section 55050)Upon student request, faculty can provide a written exam or allow students to complete a portfolio or skills demonstration to earn credit for a course when the student thinks they have already met the course’s learning outcomes.
Review of Joint Services Transcripts or other military service documentsNursing program directors must assess students’ Joint Services Transcripts for credit. Additionally, a 2018 law requires a systemwide policy to be implemented to award military personnel and veterans general education credit in an area aligned with their prior learning.
Standardized ExamsThe CCC system has a standard policy for AP exam credit (Title 5, Section 55052). Some colleges also accept IB, CLEP, and DSST exams for credit.

Other state higher education systems have implemented policies and practices to ensure equity, quality, and integrity in the assessment process. The Vision Resource Center’s “Credit for Prior Learning Community” contains links to many models that can be adapted for California Community Colleges.

Unfortunately, because of a lack of data, little is known about the progress and outcomes of California community college students who receive credit via the CPL methods identified above. Other states have compiled data showing improved outcomes for students who receive CPL; data collection activities should be a part of California college practices to help inform policy moving forward.

Governor Brown signed two bills in 2018 that mandate CPL in California Community Colleges (SB1071AB1786). In a joint initiative of the Chancellor’s Office and Success Center, a statewide cross-role, cross-sector Advisory Committee is developing suggestions for new policy to expand prior learning assessment methods, streamline internal processes to award credit, and remove the onus on students to pursue this option. This initiative is about expanding options for students and building capacity for faculty and staff to ensure quality, integrity, and equity in assessing students’ prior learning. The initiative team has made recommendations about ways to continue collaborating with CSU and UC to ensure that credit offered in GE or program courses—the priority for CPL—is accepted for transfer.

In a pilot starting fall 2019, faculty will make credit recommendations based on the match of competencies students achieve through select military training and industry certifications to student learning outcomes in aligned courses. We expect to share the cross-walks so they can be used by faculty across the state for other students who have the same training credentials.

On the Vision Resource Center, California community college faculty and staff can find resources about CPL, collaborate to share practices across campuses, engage in dialogue, and contribute to creating more equitable prior learning assessment opportunities for students. Join the “Credit for Prior Learning Community” to receive updates as resources and events are added to the forum.