A group of four institutions of higher education—Essex County College, New Jersey City University, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rowan University—has launched a pilot program called New Jersey Prior Learning Assessment Network (NJ PLAN) that will allow students to receive academic credit for knowledge acquired outside the classroom, either through the workforce or from life experience. Thomas Edison State College, already a leader in PLA (Prior Learning Assessment), serves as the anchor institution for the consortium. According to Rochelle Hendricks, the Secretary for Higher Education, the program “allows qualified students to shorten the time-to-degree completion, while lowering costs and increasing access and retention.” The program is expected to be available to students by the end of fall 2014.
So what exactly does PLA entail? According to Thomas Edison State College’s website, PLA is a portfolio-based program where students “have to demonstrate that what they already know is equivalent to what they would have learned in an equivalent college course.” Students start the process of portfolio development by taking two online courses—PLA 100 and PLA 200—where they articulate their prior learning and determine whether what they already know aligns with learning outcomes in courses in those areas. For more details on Thomas Edison’s PLA program see: http://www.tesc.edu/degree-completion/PLA-100-and-PLA-200.cfm
Whether the NJ PLAN program will be a success remains to be seen. The challenge lies in ensuring that portfolio assessment conducted by trained faculty and mentors provides adequate and accurate data on student learning and ability that would have otherwise been measured at the end of a credit-bearing course.