Advisor Guide to PLA


Our students come to us from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Some of those experiences may involve college-level learning. The Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) Program provides the pathways for students to challenge courses in their Bucks Program of Study and earn credit for material they’ve already mastered. Note that credit is only granted for learning, not for experience.

Benefits of PLA

  • May help students attain their associate degree or certificate sooner.
  • May serve to satisfy pre-requisite requirements.
  • Saves students time and money by not having to take courses for material they’ve already mastered.
  • Validates students’ life experiences, potentially helping to facilitate their engagement.
  • Studies by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and others show that PLA participants tend to do better academically, enroll for more classes, have increased retention and show greater persistence toward degree attainment than their non-PLA peers.

PLA Pathways

Bucks recognizes the three primary assessment methods by which college-level learning can be documented – Challenge by Exam (CBE), Evaluation of Non-Collegiate Instruction (resulting in Credit Recommendations and Articulation Agreements), and Individual Assessment (by portfolio). The fee for most assessments is generally around $100, except for the NYU SCPS Language Proficiency Exams which cost $340+.

Challenge By Exam (CBE)

  • Detailed information is on the Bucks PLA, Testing Center, and College catalog web pages.
  • CLEP or DSST – students should register with and submit payment to the Testing Center.
  • CREX – students should contact the Academic Department for information and an Invoice.
  • NYU SCPS Language Proficiency Exams – CLEP only has exams for French, German and Spanish; this service has exams to test proficiency in over fifty languages and arrangements can be made to take it in the Bucks Testing Center. Students should register with and submit payment directly to NYU SCPS.
  • Remind students to submit a PLA Application (PDF) and review the material! Resources and Study Guides are online (with links from the PLA web pages) and in the Bucks Library and Bookstore.

Evaluation of Non-Collegiate Instruction resulting in
Articulation Agreements and Credit Recommendations

  • Successfully completed non-college instruction may be eligible for equivalent credit.
  • Some non-collegiate instruction and training programs have been evaluated and resulted in Articulation Agreements and Credit Recommendations. Examples include secondary school Tech-Prep programs; Bucks noncredit Continuing Education programs; and professional credential training programs (ACT120, CDA, EMT, others).
  • Some non-collegiate instruction and training programs, including those provided by the Military, are evaluated by the American Council on Education (ACE) and National College Credit Recommendation Service (National CCRS), whose course and credit recommendations are taken into consideration. Training providers should know if they have been evaluated.
  • Original documentation must be copied by Bucks personnel attesting to its authenticity.

Individual Assessment via Portfolio

  • The student must receive authorization from the PLA Office and Academic Department in which the course is taught.
  • The portfolio must be evaluated by a Bucks faculty assessor who is an expert in the field. Please contact your AAD to indicate any interest in serving as a compensated assessor.
  • The portfolio is used to challenge a particular course that is part of the student's Bucks Program of Study.
  • The student must explain and document how they have mastered each published course objective, equivalent to successful completion of the course.

Course Equivalence Model

  • This approach taken at Bucks helps to support the academic integrity of PLA and the College.
  • The prior learning needs to match a specific Bucks course within the student’s Program of Study and document learning equivalent to successful completion of that course.

Important Considerations

  • No letter grade is awarded for equivalent credit on the Bucks transcript.
  • Equivalent credit is indicated as CL, CX or LE on the Bucks transcript where the grade would be.
  • PLA credit may not be transferable; students should work directly with their transfer school.
  • The Bucks Graduation Residency Policy requires that a minimum of 30 credits toward the associate degree or 50% of the credits for a certificate must be earned in graded courses at Bucks.
  • Students may only use PLA to challenge a particular Bucks course in their Bucks Program of Study.

Application Process

  • Instruct students to review the information on the PLA web pages, then complete and submit the PLA Application (PDF), available on the PLA web pages and in Student Services.
  • Remind students to review the Guidelines and get clarification when needed.
  • Advising appointments with the PLA Coordinator are available to help students finalize their PLA Plan.
  • The student must use the PLA Application (PDF) to apply for the process to request consideration for equivalent credit; competency reports, exam results, transcripts, and/or the Bucks Admissions Application are not enough.
  • Original supporting documentation (transcripts, competency reports, credentials, etc.) must be viewed and copied by Bucks personnel and submitted with the PLA Application.


PLA was stimulated to a large extent by 1960s student activism, a focus on the individual and the increasing numbers of adults returning to higher education. Early programs were often focused on Life Experience and were named accordingly. Academic institutions were troubled by the unethical practice at some schools using the granting of “credit for experience” as a marketing ploy. The Council for the Advancement of Experiential Learning (CAEL, now the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning) was established in the 1970s to address quality assurance in PLA and deepen an understanding of adult learners and their needs through research. Bucks participated in a major CAEL study published in March 2010. Academic Integrity is strong in current PLA programs, especially at Bucks. Here at Bucks we follow state and CAEL guidelines and abide by CAEL’s Ten Standards for Assessing Learning. A key point to remember is that we award equivalent credit for learning, not for experience.

PLA Coordinator Role

  • Serves as student advocate and advisor to facilitate the process – does not award credit.
  • Provides advising to support students with developing their PLA Plans.
  • Develops, submits and processes Credit Award Proposals on behalf of students.
  • Works with the Academic Departments to coordinate and facilitate the PLA Program.
  • Works with Records to ensure that equivalent Credit Awards are applied to student transcripts.
  • Coordinates the Evaluation of Non-Collegiate Instruction for Credit Recommendations and Articulation Agreements.