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PLA: Leveraging Your Life Experience for Academic Credit

The University’s adult learners or non-traditional students often enter higher education with significant work and life experiences that have provided them with knowledge equal to college-level studies. However, translating this hands-on learning into academic credit can be challenging.

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) provides a pathway for our students to demonstrate their college-level learning gained outside the classroom and apply it toward their degree requirements. They can earn credit for experiential learning by developing a portfolio and submitting it for a review by a subject matter expert.

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One Student’s Experience with PLA

Current student James Beda. Image courtesy of author.

University student James Beda, currently seeking his bachelor’s degree in homeland security, is one student who has undergone the PLA experience. He explains, “I started my academic career with the University late in my life, after having served seven years with the U.S. Army and then another 11 years in law enforcement. As I explored some of the required classes needed for my degree path, I began to wonder if my previous life experiences could be used to gain college credit.

“After a quick call to an advisor, I was told about a program used by the University called Prior Learning Assessment. PLA allows you to submit a portfolio to a subject matter expert to try and receive college credit for specific classes, based off your previous experience.

“After seeking more information on the PLA, I received a quick reply letting me know I was eligible. I enrolled in the PLA class the next semester where I met the course instructor, Marsha Metzer.

“The PLA class discussed in depth what your PLA portfolio needs to contain to be successful. The PLA class guides you through building a portfolio, step by step, with incredibly helpful feedback from Mrs. Metzer.

“Thanks to Mrs. Metzer, I was able to obtain credit for one of my required courses based off my life experience. Not only does the PLA save a student time and money, but it also gives credit where credit is due. I highly recommend this path for individuals who have life experience that they want to use to pursue a degree.”

After his initial inquiry, James enrolled in the University’s PLA free workshop for eight weeks the following semester, which I taught. In this workshop, I provided step-by-step guidance on developing a comprehensive portfolio that documents prior learning and translates it into components that meet the University’s academic standards.

With my feedback throughout the course, James created a portfolio demonstrating his military service and law enforcement experience and how it applied to a class. At the end of the workshop, James created his final portfolio and then sent to it to the University’s subject matter expert (SME). After review by the SME, his portfolio was approved and James received academic credit for that class. 

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The Benefits of a Prior Learning Assessment

Through our PLA course and portfolio development process, James saved on tuition expenses and accelerated his path to graduation. Beyond gaining course credit, the experience also increased his confidence by formally validating his professional experience.

PLA affords immense value for adult learners or non-traditional students by providing a way to translate impactful work and life experience into academic credit. The guidance we supplied through the university PLA workshop gave James the understanding and tools he needed.

Adult learners should strongly consider leveraging this innovative way of demonstrating more of their knowledge and capabilities, which are not always reflected by just consulting transcripts. PLA closes this gap by formally acknowledging the college-level mastery individuals can cultivate throughout their dynamic lives.

For more information, visit our Prior Learning Assessment page or email

Marsha Metzer is a multifaceted professional with experience in education, psychology, business, ministry and coaching. As a senior project coordinator and Prior Learning Assessment faculty member at the University, she helps adult learners achieve their academic goals. Marsha also serves as a life coach and chaplain, providing guidance and spiritual support to others. She holds a Regents Bachelor of Arts (RBA) degree with a concentration in elementary education from Shepherd University as well as a Master of Arts in psychology and a graduate certificate in life coaching from American Military University. Her educational background also includes a MBA from American Public University and a certificate in chaplaincy. Known for her ministry leadership, volunteering, mission trips, and worship singing, Marsha is dedicated to service and bringing out the best in people. At her core, she is family-oriented and committed to empowering individuals to thrive.

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