College Spotlight

Equity Minded Credit for Prior Learning

September 14, 2023

Achieving the Dream

SUNY Empire State University is a public university in New York state that primarily serves adult learners. The university’s Center for Leadership in Credential Learning is responsible for providing academic credit to students for prior learning that occurred outside of the classroom. Since the labor market is biased toward students with degrees, offering credit for prior learning can bolster academic and professional success for students of color — particularly Black and Latinx students — who are most likely to leave college before receiving a credential.

Spotlight Feature

In 2020, SUNY Empire investigated the impact of offering credit for prior learning by assessing the outcomes of students offered prior learning assessments (PLA) versus those who were not. The study found that degree completion rates were 22% higher for students who engaged in some sort of prior learning assessment. These students gained an average of 17.6 credits, boosting enrollment and completion rates for institutions that offer PLA. Acknowledging that all students have valuable learning experiences, irrespective of where they originated, is a critical way to empower students to continue their education.

Lessons Learned

  • There’s a difference between using PLAs for recognition and for credentialing. Schools should be flexible and apply prior learning opportunities for degree-granting and vocational credentialing pathways.
  • Encourage PLA uptake by framing the opportunity from an asset-based rather than a deficit-based perspective.
  • Removing as many barriers to access for Black and Latinx students (who have the lowest PLA uptake) should be an institutional priority for schools that offer the program.

Implementation Tips

Reduce Financial Barriers

Schools should focus on integrating support for PLA into their financial aid packages so that students have equal access to the program.

Adhere to Clear and Flexible Guidelines for PLA Approval

Transparent and flexible guidelines about prior learning credit promote equity in the approval process and allow students to receive the maximum credits they are eligible for.

Create Consistent Messaging about PLA

Clear PLA messaging should be embedded in all student-facing departments throughout adult learners’ academic journeys.



increase in completion rates for students who completed PLA.

Next Steps

  1. SUNY Empire continues to support institutions as they consider how to offer credit to students through prior learning assessments.
  2. Reducing barriers to access for Black and Latinx students must be a critical priority for institutions offering PLA.
  3. Start the adoption of PLA by encouraging all university stakeholders to embrace prior learning as equally important to classroom learning.