What is Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)?
Prior Learning Assessment is the evaluation of any learning that
did not take place in a traditional college classroom or that was
garnered outside of traditional college courses. This can include,
but is not limited to, on the job training, community service,
volunteer service, independent study or hobbies, professional
development courses, and training at conference seminars or
workshops. Students demonstrate the college level learning they
have acquired through any of these methods, or a combination of one
or more, and are assessed through a portfolio of prior learning
In addition, reflecting on prior learning experience and
relating it to college level learning is a valuable exercise unto
itself; it provides the student with the opportunity to analyze
what they have learned. PLA goes hand in hand with the
non-traditional format of the Adult Degree Completion Program. The
student can identify potential learning experiences and use that
learning where it would fit best: to fulfill requirements within
their major, or as liberal arts electives.
Credits are granted by the institution to students who can prove
the level of knowledge they have acquired outside of academia over
an extended period of time. In addition, credits are granted not
based upon the experience itself, but the level of learning and
knowledge obtained through the experience, which is presented
through a well-crafted portfolio. Students must demonstrate their
learning through lived experiences via the following process:
PLA Application Steps
1. Upon expressing interest in obtaining PLA credits, the
student will discuss the process with their advisor in a scheduled
meeting. The student will be strongly encouraged to schedule a
meeting with the appropriate division chair, to discuss the merits
of his/her request, before proceeding with an application.
2. Students must complete the PLA application form which will
also include the submission of the student’s resume. Upon
completion, student will submit it to the PLA Committee for initial
review. The committee will review the student’s application to
determine whether or not the Prior Learning appears to have merit
worthy of valid academic credit.
3. Upon the PLA committee’s approval of the application, the
student will meet with their academic advisor and the chair of the
appropriate division to discuss the merits of his/her request,
before proceeding with the portfolio. After this review, the
student and academic advisor are notified by the division chair of
the outcome of the application.
4. Upon approval of the application by both the PLA Committee
and the appropriate academic division chair, the student will
attend the PLA Workshop to prepare for the creation of the
portfolio (see the Portfolio Preparation section below for more
Students pursuing three credits or more in Prior Learning will
first attend a mandatory PLA workshop. This 3-hour workshop will
include critical information about academic writing, translating
the lived experience into scholarly pursuits, beginning scholarly
research strategies, and how to continue this work by utilizing the
on-campus resources available to students.
Students may consult the PLA committee for guidance during the
creation of the portfolio, and may also view previously submitted
portfolios for insights as to organization, construction, and
The following pages describe the required content areas of an
academic learning portfolio. Students may apply PLA credits toward
a major field of study or elective courses, but not towards general
education, nursing or education requirements.
- Students may pursue up to a maximum of 30 credits in PLA
- PLA cannot be used towards core requirements
- Students may pursue PLA at any level in their major, provided
that a minimum of 12 credits at the upper level are successfully
completed at Mount Saint Mary College
The application fee of $50.00 is due when the completed
application is reviewed and accepted by the appropriate division.
Upon granting of credit, the student will be responsible for paying
25% of the current accelerated tuition rate. Tuition will be
calculated based on the date of formal approval by the Vice
President of Academic Affairs.
Contents of Portfolio
Students must demonstrate the level of academic learning gained
through experience by presenting all of the following:
- A personal statement, along with professional credentials,
outlining academic goals and accomplishments.
- Detailed descriptions of the learning experiences you are
seeking credit for.
- Other artifacts such as certifications, professional
development, military training, etc.
Special Notes About the Portfolio
Students may submit only ONE comprehensive portfolio that
combines his/her prior learning for which credit is sought. In
addition, the portfolio must be completed and approved by the Vice
President for Academic Affairs prior to the start of the semester
in which the student intends to graduate. No extensions will be
Review, Approval, and Granting of Credits
Once a student submits the final portfolio to the PLA committee,
it will be routed from the committee chair to the appropriate
division chair for approval; then on to the VPAA for final
approval. The Committee chair then notifies the registrar’s office
so that approved credit(s) will be recorded on the student’s
transcript as transfer credits with a grade of P. The final step is
for the committee chair to notify the office of Student Accounts so
that the student will be billed per the tuition costs outlined
Undergraduate Student Portfolio
A portfolio submitted to the Committee for PLA at Mount Saint
Mary College is a collection of evidence: It is a formal
communication presented by the student to the college as a part of
an appeal requesting credit for learning outside the college
classroom. The portfolio makes its case by identifying
college-level learning clearly and succinctly, so that faculty can
use it, alone or in combination with other evidence, as the basis
for their evaluation allowing either course-equivalency or liberal
arts elective credits toward a degree.
The composition of a portfolio is not simply an account of your
prior learning. It is in and of itself, a learning process. The
process of building a portfolio offers the student an opportunity
to recapitulate key experiences, analyze and interpret them, and
articulate and critique how these experiences contributed to what
they have learned. The portfolio process has the potential to
significantly deepen understanding of our experiences and how they
have influenced who we are and how we live our lives.
The portfolio is a compilation of personal, professional, and
academic artifacts that demonstrate the level of knowledge gained
from their prior learning. These artifacts must clearly demonstrate
that one has had the experience, gained something from it that
would benefit them professionally, personally, or academically, and
be able to make a connection between that experience and their
The challenge of a portfolio is to bring experiences together
with applicable theories and concepts from the academic
disciplines. In doing so, students can become ever keener observers
of their own experiences while also growing in their capacity to
understand conceptually abstract material. Well-written portfolios
provide ample evidence of the knowledge students have gained, for
which they intend to receive college credit. Students must document
their specific learning competencies which they have acquired
through prior experience. Learning competencies are: knowledge,
abilities, and/or skills that students have acquired through their
prior learning and that relate to college-level content. In the
portfolio process, students must provide convincing documentation,
which is the evidence, written or performed, substantiating that
knowledge, skills, and abilities have indeed been learned from
their prior experience(s).
Upon the review of the application and portfolio by the academic
division, students may or may not be granted college credits for
their prior learning. The total of credit hours that may be granted
may not exceed 30, or the equivalent of one full year of college
study. Students may apply these credits ONLY toward a major field
of study or liberal arts elective courses. They are not applicable
toward general education, nursing, or education requirements.
The written content of the portfolio must meet the high
college-level standards articulated on the following pages,
including the following components, and addressing the following
1) Title Sheet. Include your name, student ID #, address, date
of submission, phone number, and MSMC email address.
2) Table of Contents. Include a one-page reference to all
subsequent sections of your portfolio by page number.
3) Letter of Intent. Write a letter addressed to the Committee
for Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) which explicitly states the
reasons for submitting your portfolio and the outcomes which you
expect to emerge. The letter of intent will include the
- Learning outcomes you intend to prove
- Area(s) of expertise you intend to demonstrate
- Number of credits you are hoping to earn
- Type of credit you will be pursuing
4) Current résumé. Submit a current résumé of one or two pages,
to include a synopsis of your educational background and work
history. Include relevant professional memberships, awards,
commendations, publications, and supplemental experience or
achievements (i.e. Speak fluent French; or Professional
Certification in Banking or Human Resources).
5) Syllabus for Course(s). If your portfolio is course-specific
(as opposed to general elective), obtain a MSMC syllabus for each
course pertaining to your portfolio content (see a committee member
for assistance). A syllabus will serve as the basis for your
portfolio goals and learning outcomes.
6) Competencies and Learning Outcomes. The learning outcomes and
competencies are the heart of your portfolio. For course-specific
portfolios, they will reflect the syllabus of the targeted course.
This section will most directly influence the credit your portfolio
will earn. The competencies and learning outcomes also constitute
the most challenging part of your portfolio to write. Your
competencies will reflect the natural, logical, and expected
outcomes of your experiences.
In this section, you will give a description (with
documentation) of the context in which your knowledge was gained.
You will analyze, trace, and document your previous experiences,
relating them to the knowledge and skills required by the target
discipline or course of your portfolio. This section will include
specific details and insight from your past experiences and make
systematic, logical connections to the theories and concepts of the
discipline/course in which you seek credit.
To repeat in different words: this section of the portfolio
requires critical reflection. It asks you to use your ability to
synthesize the meaning and impact of your previous experience. At
the same time you are being asked to connect that meaning and
impact to the requirements and criteria of the college course for
which you seek credit. You will need an awareness and understanding
that it is you who is responsible for presenting your learning
outcomes and competencies to the college in a narrative with
documentation so strong and compelling that there is no doubt about
the credit you will earn in the portfolio.
Length and Merit
The length of this section may vary from five to fifteen pages,
depending on the type and number of credits you are seeking.
Factors which may affect length include: subject area, quantity and
type of documentation, and the theoretical complexity of your
knowledge on the subject. Specific detail and personal insight in
this section is likely to develop a stronger case and earn you a
maximum number of credits.
The quality of your writing for describing your competencies and
learning outcomes is critical; you must demonstrate that you know
and understand your subject area, the quantity and type of
documentation most appropriate for your subject area, and your
knowledge about the subject. You will need to employ a writing
style such as MLA, APA, or Chicago Style depending on your subject
To aid you in this endeavor, you are encouraged to utilize the
Mount’s Writing Center. The Writing Center’s primary function is to
support students as they’re completing academic writing skills. The
Writing Center’s team of trained writing tutors assists Mount
students in all stages of the writing process: brainstorming and
organizing ideas; structuring sentences, paragraphs, and essays;
strengthening argumentation; incorporating research and appropriate
systems of citation; improving grammar and style; and more! To
learn more about the Writing Center’s resources, please contact
them at 845-569-3413 to schedule an appointment. The Writing Center
is located in room 118 of the Dominican Center.
To Process Knowledge
You must know how to:
- Analyze the components,
- Distinguish crucial information from the trivial,
- Associate new information with stored facts,
- Integrate information from many sources to solve problems,
- Gain new awareness,
- Reflect on the applicability of your learned outcomes and
competencies not only to self, but also to the world.
To Express Learning Competencies:
Cognitive skills which will aid in expressing your learning
- The ability to see patterns and connections in diverse
- The ability to organize and communicate these
- The ability to conceptualize many sides of a controversial
issue, to understand the underlying issues and differing
perspectives, and to effectively resolve informational
- The ability to learn from your experiences – you should be able
to generate behavioral alternatives, to analyze a particular
behavior in the context of another's behavior, to determine the
complexity and multi-dimensionality of intellect, and to change or
open your mind.
To Write a Successful Narrative:
Your narrative, to be successful and to earn the maximum credit,
may describe your learning competencies as those which:
- Describe your knowledge of the subject;
- Specify when, where, and how you acquired the knowledge;
- Reflect your own strengths and weaknesses in context of these
- Relate your experiences to specific course expectations and
theories which have specific learning outcomes (which may offer
- Have specific documentation;
- Elaborate upon the relationships between your documentation and
the learning competencies you introduce and identify;
- Connect to present experience and future goals.
7) Supporting Documentation. The material which you submit to
prove your claims of college-level learning outcomes and
competencies is called documentation. Supporting documentation is
the skeleton, the supporting foundation of your portfolio and must
specifically be identified with each learning outcome and
- Provides direct evidence and a coherent account of your
competencies and college-level learning outcomes;
- Supports your narrative, specifically including learning
outcomes and their contexts;
- Accounts for the significance of your learning in terms of life
goals and disciplinary knowledge.
Evidence may include audio or video cassettes, CD's, DVD's,
candidate-created websites, photographs, and written evidence, such
as licenses, certificates, and other examples (see below). Your
documentation should be specifically noted in your text as you
discuss each learning competency and outcome. Organize and edit
your documentation carefully to that request.
Examples of documentation can include, but are not limited
- Job descriptions
- Awards, certificates, letters, references, or job
- Diplomas for previous degrees
- Licenses granted by state or national agencies
- Scores on licensing exams
- Personnel evaluations
- Evidence of promotion
- Memberships in professional trade organizations (showing also
their requirements for membership)
- Newspaper or magazine clippings demonstrating evidence of your
experiences, or relating directly to you or your company
- Examples of written or artistic work
- Demonstration of dance, artistic or oral performance, or
instruction on audio or video cassette, CD, DVD, candidate-created
website, or photographs
- Evidence of adopted suggestions or outcomes
- Verification of completed course, workshops, seminars, and
other educational events
8) Annotated Bibliography. At the conclusion of your portfolio,
include a list and brief description of all the books, articles,
pamphlets, and other sources, electronic or in print, to which you
referred. Use standard MLA, Chicago Style, or APA format and
conventions. This list will strengthen the theoretical foundation
of your learning and make your presentation more compelling.
9) Criteria by Which You Will be Evaluated
Please note: Course-specific portfolios will require this
The appropriate Division Chair may consider the following
- Your ability to state and explain learning competencies, as you
also include specific details and insights.
- Your ability to trace and document meaning in performance and
- Your ability to describe and analyze the context in which your
learning competencies and outcomes were developed.
- Your ability to interpret, analyze, and transfer knowledge,
learning competencies, outcomes, and personal attributes into
- Your ability to synthesize data and experiential situations for
use in problem-solving and decision-making areas.
- Your ability to relate professional knowledge and/or core
competencies embedded in your experiences to concepts, theories,
and research pertaining to the relevant discipline of your
- Your ability to document each competency and learning
- Your ability to demonstrate college-level competency in
10) Procedural Steps That May Help in Your Academic Portfolio
- Make an appointment with your Academic Advisor prior to
starting any portfolio to sort the details and procedures for the
- Identify and list the competencies and college-level outcomes
you believe you can support with documentation, as well as the
academic resources you will use.
- Identify and list the course(s) which may best match your
college-level learning competencies and knowledge.
- Gather supporting documentation which you will specifically key
to each outcome.
- Attend the PLA Workshop