Segmentation and penetration of prior learning assessment methodologies at American colleges and universities

Date of Completion

January 1990


Education, Adult and Continuing




As society increasingly becomes dependent on lifelong learners, higher education institutions in the 1990's will be characterized by increased enrollment by adult students. Higher education will be expected to meet the demands of these new enrollees by adoption and diffusion of innovative practices that are adult learner oriented. Enormous opportunities will exist for lifelong learner providers who adopt such innovations. One such innovation is prior learning assessment (PLA) of education and experiences that occur outside formal education.^ This study explored the segmentation and penetration of the innovation awarding credit through prior learning assessment procedures for nonsponsored experiential learning. To this end, seven hypotheses were developed. The data used to test these hypotheses were solicited from a sample of institutions which conformed to the study's target population's parameters. The sample was stratified by location within one of the six higher education regional accrediting associations districts. The sample was further stratified by institution type (i.e., two year, four year, graduate). The data were collected by means of a questionnaire which was used to identify the rate of adoption and number of PLA credits awarded according to institutional size, control, type, and regional demographics. Further, this study investigated the relationship between institutions' innovativeness and affiliation with one or more selected network organizations which advocate experiential learning.^ Results of this study showed that institutions tended to have PLA practice policies. However, the percentage of institutions which actually awarded credit was found to be far less than the percentage of institutions which reported having such PLA policies. In addition, the survey disclosed that only 35% of the institutions awarded more than 200 credits utilizing four different PLA methodologies during the 1987 academic year.^ The study's results also revealed that those institutions affiliated with one or more of the selected five network organizations were more likely to award credit and also more likely to award more than 200 credits per year. The data also revealed that institutions located in the Middle States and North Central accrediting regions were more likely to award credit via the four PLA methodologies. ^