Individualized Prior Learning Assessment Policy and Procedures

Sponsor:

Academic Affairs

Contact:

Provost, Academic Affairs

Category:

Academic and Student Affairs

Number:

300.101

Effective Date:

2007/07/01

Review Date:

2015/07/01

Implementation History:

Approved by Empire State College Senate 5/19/2006. Effective 07/01/2007. Replaces Resources and Criteria sections 801 and 803, and elements of Policies and Procedures “Advanced Standing: Policies and Procedures that Govern the Assessment of Prior Learning.”

Keywords:

PLA, CBE, Prior Learning Assessment, Individualized Prior Learning Assessment, Independent Studies, Independent Study

Background Information:

Purpose

Empire State College is committed to the idea that people should be awarded credit for verifiable college-level learning regardless of where or how it was acquired. Many Empire State College students have gained knowledge from sources that are not validated in traditional classrooms, by standardized examinations or noncollegiate sponsored learning. This policy outlines the process for granting credit for verifiable college-level learning.

Definitions

Statements

Principles

The Middle States Commission (the college’s regional accreditation body) and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) recommend that each institution make explicit and public its approach to prior-learning assessment. Together, these bodies have identified a number of elements of prior learning assessment for which the institution should define specific principles and standards (see ESC website for their statements).

The college’s principles support institutional integrity by ensuring that credit awards are credible and reflect student learning. Empire State College:

Scope of Learning
  1. recognizes students’ college-level learning, however it is acquired
  2. awards credit only for college-level learning, not for experience per se
  3. awards credit only once for the same learning within a student’s overall degree
  4. allows prior-learning credit to apply toward any part of a student’s degree (e.g., components that are introductory or advanced level, in the liberal arts and sciences or not, in the concentration or in general learning, meet general education requirements or not)
  5. recognizes emergent knowledge areas and perspectives, as well as experience-based learning by adults, which may not be represented in standard college curricula. Other institutions may limit prior-learning credit requests to course equivalents. Empire State College does not use course equivalents to automatically allow or exclude consideration of a request for prior-learning credit.
Award of Credit
  1. expects prior learning recommendations to meet the college’s quality criteria, as outlined in prior-learning procedures
  2. relies on the Empire State College faculty, acting through center portfolio-review committees, to approve the award of credit appropriate to the overall context of the student’s degree, and to determine the nature of the credit (e.g., level, liberal arts and sciences status, general education status, placement under concentration/general learning), consistent with college policies.
  3. awards credit for prior-learning credit in the context of the student’s overall degree program. This principle promotes an integrative approach to the award of prior learning credit.
  4. clearly advises students in official publications that prior-learning credit awarded by the college may or may not transfer to other institutions.
Student Responsibilities
  1. recognizes that the process of identifying, articulating and evaluating prior college-level learning is itself a significant learning experience for students
  2. expects students to articulate and demonstrate their college-level learning and to participate actively in the evaluation process.
College
  1. provides for fair, consistent and timely treatment of students. Center assessment office staff, faculty, deans, and the Office of Collegewide Academic Review (OCAR) are responsible for monitoring these elements of prior learning assessment
  2. fully discloses to students the college’s policies and procedures for prior-learning assessment, including associated fees
  3. relies on subject matter experts, with at least a master’s degree or the equivalent, and expertise relevant to a prior-learning request, to evaluate student learning using appropriate methodologies and to make recommendations regarding college credit
  4. provides systematic, periodic training to prior-learning evaluators, as well as staff and faculty responsible for quality review. Center assessment office staff and the Office of Collegewide Academic Review (OCAR) are responsible for training resources and activities, in collaboration with center faculty and academic administrators, the Mentoring Institute and/or the Office of Academic Affairs.
  5. supports institutional integrity in prior-learning assessment through such means as ensuring that there is no conflict of interest on the part of an evaluator who conducts a prior-learning assessment and that an evaluator does not assess too much credit for one student.
Quality Review
  1. periodically evaluates available resources and the quality and effectiveness of prior-learning assessment. Every three years, the Office of Academic Affairs conducts a review of policies, procedures and results related to prior-learning assessment, in collaboration with the Undergraduate Studies and Policies Committee, center faculty and academic administrators, and the Office of Collegewide Academic Review.

Applicable Legislation and Regulations

Related References, Policies, Procedures, Forms and Appendices

Procedures

Students develop individual prior-learning requests (generally during their educational planning studies) and submit them to the center assessment office, with the guidance and review of their primary mentors. 

Mentors and students engage in early and ongoing conversations regarding the student’s background, potential areas for prior-learning assessment, and potential areas for new learning – in other words, regarding the overall scope of the student’s degree and plans for learning. College offices provide online, print and in-person resources that support students in this process. However, there is no substitute for this ongoing mentor-student conversation.

Mentors work with students to develop realistic expectations regarding the kinds and amount of prior-learning credit appropriate to their individual degree programs. It is especially important for students to understand that the college awards prior-learning credit for demonstrated college-level learning, not for experience. 

As students develop their prior-learning requests, mentors and assessment office staff also stress that:

  • students’ initial estimates of credit are just that – estimates
  • evaluators recommend credit (i.e., an evaluator's recommendation is not an award of credit by the college).

The college awards credit, upon the approval of the faculty acting through the center portfolio reviewc ommittee and with the concurrence of the Office of Collegewide Academic Review (OCAR).

A student who is requesting extensive prior-learning credit may need additional time after earning credit in educational planning to prepare all the requests for evaluation. The student must submit the complete degree program portfolio within college timelines in order to continue enrolling. 

Prior-Learning Request and Documentation

The student’s mentor for educational planning (and/or the mentor/tutor who supervises the student’s work on prior-learning requests) is responsible for helping the student to shape each prior-learning request to meet college expectations. Students and mentors should consult the Student Degree Planning Guide and a student guide, "Credit for Prior College-Level Learning," (available online and in print) and a variety of other online and print resources. Center assessment office staff and other mentors also may assist through individual consultations and/or credit or noncredit workshops and resource materials. 

For each area in which a student requests an assessment of prior learning, the student submits to the center assessment office a written request(usually in the form of an essay), which identifies and describes her/his college-level learning and how s/he acquired the learning. 

Students should think of prior-learning requests as learning components within the overall degree. Guided by her/his research and consultation with the mentor, the student proposes a specific title for the learning component, the amount and level of credit, and liberal arts and sciences and/or SUNY general-education designations, if appropriateIn the request, the student makes a case for any of these elements, when needed. The student develops the request and credit proposal with guidance from her/his mentor, and the mentor reviews the submission. 

Evaluators need to be able to see how the learning they are evaluating fits into the context of the student’s proposed degree program in order to address questions of level of learning, potential redundancy with other degree components, etc. Therefore, the student should submit, along with a learning request, a draft degree plan reviewed by the mentor (and may sometimes include other materials such as the degree program rationale essay), so that the request can be placed in the context of a full degree program. It is in the student’s best interest to include at least a rough draft of the degree plan to ensure that the evaluated credit has a place in the program. 

The student may group closely related components into a single request (with any supporting documentation), as long as s/he specifies for each component the learning, source of learning and proposed title, credit amount, level, and liberal arts and sciences and/or SUNY general-education designations. 

The student’s request includes a learning description and a list of relevant documents or other materials that s/he can provide to the evaluator to support the credit request. In some cases, the student provides the supporting documents directly to the evaluator for review during the evaluation process. In other cases, the center assessment office facilitates this process, and may collect materials from the student and forward them to the evaluator. The evaluator also may request additional documentation from the student. The college may provide online tools that support the exchange of documents and materials and communication among students, evaluators, mentor and assessment staff. 

A prior-learning request is an important document in which the student should be able to take pride. This means that the final draft of the request should meet college-level writing expectations in terms of substance, presentationand academic integrity.

The student needs to develop the request sufficiently for center assessment staff to identify an evaluator who is qualified to evaluate the student’s learning. The student also needs to describe the learning sufficiently for the evaluator to select appropriate methods of evaluation and identify areas of potential redundancy with other degree program components. 

If a request does not meet the college’s expectations, the director of academic review for the center may require that the student develop it further or make any essential corrections, before s/he places the request with an evaluator.

Placement of Prior Learning Requests

Center assessment office staff place all prior-learning requests with qualified evaluators, normally within 30 days of receiving a request that is ready for placement. Assessment staff provide contact information to the student and evaluator as appropriate. 

On rare occasions, the college is unable to place a request because a qualified evaluator is not available. In this case, the assessment office notifies the student and mentor and returns the request.

The college does not accept prior-learning evaluations directly solicited by students. A student may, however, suggest a possible evaluator. The center assessment office determines if a student-identified evaluator meets the college’s criteria regarding qualifications and the absence of any possible conflict of interest.

Evaluation Process and Credit Recommendation

The student is responsible for making contact with the evaluator, responding to requests for additional supporting materials in a timely fashion and participating actively in the evaluation process. The student is also responsible for notifying the center assessment office if s/he cannot make contact with the evaluator or has other difficulties with the process.

The evaluator is responsible for making contact with the student and for notifying the center assessment office if s/he cannot make contact with the student or has other difficulties with the process. The evaluator may specify that s/he prefers to make the initial contact with the student. The evaluator is responsible for assessing and making a written recommendation regarding the student’s learning, normally within 45 days of receiving the request. 

Assessment office staff are responsible for appropriate and timely follow up on prior-learning requests and recommendations. 

In formulating a prior learning recommendation, the evaluator:

  • reviews the student’s request and any supporting materials
  • interviews and/or consults with the student 
  • may ask the student to provide additional supporting materials or documentation of her/his learning. Demonstrations of learning may take a variety of forms, such as portfolios of creative work, annotated bibliographies of relevant readings, analytical essays, analysis of case studies, video/audio tapes of presentations, grant proposals, work products or training materials created by the student, etc.

Written prior learning recommendations should meet the following criteria: 

  • describe the methods used to evaluate the student’s learning
  • describe the specific elements of the student’s learning
  • indicate whether the learning is introductory or advanced level and provide a justification for advanced level credit, when necessary
  • if the learning falls within the liberal arts and sciences, provide a justification for liberal arts and sciences credit, when necessary
  • if the learning meets one or more of the SUNY general-education requirements, in part or in full, and provide a justification, when necessary
  • assess any possible redundancy or duplication with other components in the student’s degree plan, when necessary 
  • provide an appropriate title that describes the student’s learning (not an experience, training, job or program the student completed)
  • recommend a semester-hour credit award for the student’s learning. 

An evaluator may recommend the amount and kind of credit requested, or may recommend more, less or no credit and/or a different title, level, description of learning, liberal studies or general education designation, etc. 

The director of academic review for the center ensures that evaluator recommendations meet the college’s quality criteria, and may obtain further information, return for revision, or reassign evaluations that do not meet college expectations. 

The center assessment office provides a copy of the evaluator recommendation to the student and the mentor, making clear that the recommendation is not an award of credit.

If the center program review committee believes that an evaluator recommendation does not meet the college’s quality criteria, the committee may request further information or revision or ask that the request be placed with another evaluator.

Evaluator Payment

Payment of evaluators is based on the size and complexity of the credit request (using the college’s current compensation model), not on the amount of credit the evaluator recommends.

Award of Credit for Prior Learning

The faculty of the college, through the center program review committee, is responsible for approving the award of prior learning credit by the college. The college awards prior learning credit following approval by the faculty, and a technical review of the degree program and portfolio by the Office of College Assessment Services.

Review by the Office of College Assessment Services

After approval by the center assessment committee, the portfolio (which includes the degree program) is sent to the Office of Collegewide Review (OCAR), which raises questions if there are technical errors or an incomplete portfolio. Within 30 days after receiving the portfolio, OCAS informs the director of academic review regarding whether the portfolio has been concurred. Once OCAS clears the portfolio, the center decision becomes official.

Prior Learning Evaluations by the Director of Academic Review

Given the distinct role of the director of academic review in quality review of prior learning evaluations, the DAR normally does not conduct prior learning evaluations for students in her/his home center. The DAR may conduct prior-learning evaluations for students in other centers.

Placement of Prior Learning Requests with the Primary Mentor

The primary mentor normally does not conduct prior-learning evaluations for her/his own students (i.e., primary mentees).

If the director of academic review judges this to be the best placement, s/he may request that the primary mentor conduct an evaluation. This may occur only if conducting the evaluation would not lead the primary mentor to exceed the college’s limits on credit placed with one evaluator. The primary mentor may decline to conduct the evaluation, in which case the DAR places the request with another evaluator.

Limits on Prior Learning Requests Placed with One Evaluator

Consistent with principle 17, the upper limit for a student’s total prior-learning credit request(s) assigned to a single evaluator is 20 credits. The purpose of this limit is to support the institutional integrity of the prior-learning assessment process by ensuring that no single person evaluates too much of a student's overall degree program.

When a student requests a larger amount of credit in an area, center assessment staff divide requests among two or more evaluators. In this case, center assessment staff ask at least one of the evaluators to pay special attention to possible redundancy in the program. Alternatively, a large request may be placed with a team of evaluators, in which case the team needs to comment on possible redundancy in the program.

In unusual instances it might be necessary to exceed the limit on credit placed with one evaluator. In these cases, the director of academic review makes a determination and documents the rationale for exceeding the limit.

Appeals

If a student has reason to appeal a decision of the center assessment committee, he or she may do so in accordance with the college's Academic Appeals Policy and Procedures found in the undergraduate catalog and online. 

Related Policies

Related Policies: Advanced Standing Credit: Transcript Credit; Policy and Procedures for Degree Program and Portfolio Review and Approval; Policy on Educational Planning Studies; Degree Program Rationale; Breadth of Degree Programs and SUNY General Education Requirements; Individualized Program Design: Bachelor’s Degrees; Individualized Program Design: Associate Degrees