SOURCE: The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning

Clark Communications

October 10, 2014 08:16 ET

College and University Approaches to Prior Learning Assessment Make the Difference for Latino Students

New Research Shows Latino Student Outcomes Improve With Prior Learning Assessment but Institutional Approach has Large Impact on Access

CHICAGO, IL--(Marketwired - October 10, 2014) - An important new study, "Random Access: The Latino Student Experience with Prior Learning Assessment," provides important findings and recommendations to institutions of higher learning, Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) CEO and President Pamela Tate announced today. The study's findings suggest specific strategies for more effective outreach on PLA to Latino students, as well as other important target populations.

The study was co-authored by Rebecca Klein-Collins and Richard Olson of CAEL; Deborah Santiago of Excelencia in Education served as a partner and key contributor to the research design, implementation, and analysis. In examining how Latino students used different methods of PLA, it reports on number of credits earned and areas of study. It also investigates the role that institu­tions play in encouraging Latino students to take advantage of PLA.

"This study represents an important milestone for the Latino adult learner community and the institutions of higher learning which serve them. We learned a lot in preparing this report and we're eager to share our findings and recommendations, which we are certain will enhance the ability of those institutions to improve access to PLA -- resulting in higher degree completion for the Latino community and others," said Tate.

The study analyzed more than 32,000 student academic records and undertook interviews with Latino students and PLA administrators at 10 different institutions across the country. 

Some of the report's findings:

  • Latinos use PLA less frequently than non-Latino students in the overall sample
  • But Latinos attending institutions with more robust PLA offerings take advantage of PLA at similar or higher rates than non-Latino groups
  • At institutions with less emphasis, the rates of participation for Latinos and non-Latinos are also the same
  • Visibility of and ease of access to PLA options is a critical factor in ensuring Latino use of PLA
  • For Latino students, participation in PLA is less dependent upon ethnicity than it is on the specific approach to PLA within a given institution
  • Latino students are far more likely to earn PLA credit for a foreign language than non-Latino students
  • Foreign language credit appears to be an important gateway for Latino students to access PLA for other work and life experiential learning
  • Latinos earned 26 college credits through PLA, only slight less than the 27.2 for non-Latinos

In 2010, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) found that adult students with PLA credit are two-and-a-half times more likely to earn their degrees compared to adult stu­dents without PLA credit. For PLA to be an effective strategy to help with Latino degree completion, Latino students must know about it and use it. This new study finds that Latino and non-Latino students alike would benefit from additional outreach and information on PLA. In addition, some messages about PLA may need to be adjusted for certain audiences. For example, the study referred to a representative from one institution who noted that many Latino students are first generation college students and that their experience is one in which everything at a higher education institution can seem "like a foreign language." An option like PLA, which even students from college-educated families might not fully understand, will require some additional outreach and explanation.

As a result of these findings, the study also recommended:

  • Institutions should examine and improve strategies for marketing and outreach regarding PLA
  • Reaching out spe­cifically to foreign language speakers is a great way for students to get started
  • Offering a course to all adult students to explore prior learning is another good approach
  • Institutions should provide portfolio assessment as part of their PLA program offerings and closely track PLA usage at the institu­tional level
  • Colleges and universities should also recognize that first generation college students may require a customized approach to PLA.

Tate concluded, "This study is the result of sound investigation and much collaboration with Excelencia in Education as well as with the participating institutions in the research. We hope that the report's recommendations will be implemented as soon as possible, wherever possible, so that we can continue to work toward meeting the challenge of satisfying the educational requirements of the workforce of the future."

The study can be found at and was also presented at a webinar, which can be viewed at

For more information visit

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) is a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization based in Chicago, Illinois that assists adults with their educational endeavors, finding practical ways to earn college credit for learning acquired through training and work experiences. CAEL works with the public sector, private sector industries and higher education institutions to ensure that adult students receive the most efficient training and education to occupy a meaningful professional place in a 21st century economy. Since 1974, CAEL has assisted colleges and universities in providing college credit for prior learning. CAEL is the recognized national expert on a method known as portfolio assessment, and their Ten Standards for Assessing Learning are used by colleges and universities, as well as accrediting organizations, across the country.

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  • Jackie Clark