The military provided you with top-notch training and unequaled learning experiences, and now, through something called Prior Learning Assessment, or PLA, that knowledge can translate into college credit. Prior learning is a term educators use to describe the learning you gain outside of school—such as the learning you’ve gained through formalized military training and other life experiences (including employment, travel, hobbies, civic activities, and volunteer service). PLA takes that knowledge and determines whether it can be converted it into college credit so you can earn your degree faster and more inexpensively. For example: a research study showed earning 15 credits from PLA can save $1,605 to $6,000 on tuition costs! If you’re working toward a Bachelor’s degree, those PLA credits could save you between two months and ten months.
PLA isn’t just one method or tool. To help familiarize you with how PLA works, we’ll walk through the following types of PLA:
- Transfer Guides for Military Training and Transcripts
- Portfolio Assessments
- Program Evaluations
- Customized Exams and Standardized Testing
Transfer Guides for Military Training and Transcripts
Many schools have transfer guides that detail how your military training will transfer to their institutions. Many schools rely on recommendations developed by the American Council of Education (ACE) to determine which military training/occupations have learning outcomes equivalent to college level courses and can transfer to their institution for credit. The ACE Military Guide is a terrific resource for finding out (1) which military occupations and training courses should equate to postsecondary credit and (2) how many credits should be awarded for each. You can find ACE recommendations on official transcripts, or you can manually search.
- Order your transcripts. If you served in the Army, Navy, Marine or Coast Guard, your transcript is provided through the Joint Services Transcript and may be obtained at: https://jst.doded.mil/official.html. If you served in the Air Force you may order your transcript through the following link: http://www.au.af.mil/au/barnes/ccaf/transcripts.asp.
- Search the ACE Military Guide at http://www2.acenet.edu/militaryguide/CourseSearch.cfm.
Portfolio AssessmentsA portfolio is a written document you prepare that describes the knowledge and experiences you want assessed for college credit. Some schools offer portfolio assessment themselves, while others outsource this service. CAEL’s PLA service is LearningCounts.org., an easy-to-use online service that helps you develop your PLA portfolio. The GI Bill® will reimburse for the assessment of the portfolios when you use LearningCounts.org.
- To start figuring out the areas of your knowledge and expertise that may align with college courses and could be evaluated for college credit, visit the Learning Counts College Credit Predictor tool: http://www.learningcounts.org/predictor/.
If you already have licenses or certifications, or you’ve completed non-collegiate instructional programs that are occupational specific, you can request an evaluation of the associated coursework and career activities for academic credit. Even if you are pursuing education in a different field, those experiences and credentials could possibly count toward your education and be very important to your future career.
- To find more information about the state of Illinois’ ongoing process of certification review, and possible outcomes for your military specialty, please visit: http://www.illinois.gov/veterans/Pages/Licenses.aspx.
- To verify your military certifications, look on the Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET) DD2586, which was provided to you at time of your separation (https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/tgps/).
Customized Exams and Standardized Testing
Some schools offer customized exams to verify college-level learning achievement. These may be final exams of current courses, or “Challenge Exams,” which schools develop to assess the general disciplinary knowledge and skill of an incoming student with prior learning.
Testing can be costly, so the Department of Veterans Affairs approves certain “National Tests” under the GI Bill® and will reimburse for certain testing fees. The specific tests you have to take depends upon the school. Some examples of the more widely accepted standardized exams are:
- College Level Examination Program (CLEP) Exams
- UExcel – Excelsior College Exams
- The DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST Exams)
- After you find out which tests your school requires, see if you can get reimbursed through the GI Bill®. The following link provides more information on the eligible tests: http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/national_testing.asp.
A Note About PLA Credits
All schools do not determine PLA credits the same. You should take time to understand the policies in place at your school of choice and how they impact your educational path. The more you know and understand about PLA and your school’s policies on PLA, the better able you are to maximize your military training and skills.
A Note About GI Bill® Eligibility
In order to certify college courses for the GI Bill® funding, schools must ensure that a student veteran does not already have that course on their official transcripts. As well, the VA will only pay for courses that are required to complete your degree so that you maintain GI Bill® entitlement and eligibility.