Thomas Edison State University By Thomas Edison State University • May 31, 2018

7 Ways to Earn College Credit That Don’t Include Traditional Online Courses

Did you know that in just last year alone, TESU students received 273,753 credits toward their degrees that didn’t involve a single traditional online course?

That’s more than enough credits for a lifetime, for 1,000 lifetimes. Suddenly, fulfilling 120 credits for a bachelor's degree seems doable.

The truth is, almost 85 percent of the TESU student body is 25 or older, and so it makes sense that you may have acquired college-level knowledge outside of the classroom that might be worth college credit.

Prior learning assessment (PLA) is a selection of credit earning methods that allows you to leverage what you learned outside of the classroom for college credit. That means that if you can demonstrate what you learned as a result of your training, work, military service or other life learning experience, you can turn it into credit toward your degree. So if you already have the knowledge, there is no need to sit through courses that cover the same material.

In fact, nearly every requirement in every undergraduate degree program at the University can be completed through alternative course options, whether through testing, portfolio development or by earning credit for professional training programs that you’ve completed through your profession, so you can complete your degree faster. Best of all: the PLA process allows students with college-level knowledge to earn those credits at a much lower cost than taking the courses.

Once you’ve done an initial self-assessment to evaluate what you may or may not know, you can use prior learning assessment to earn credit for what you do. Here’s how.


1. Professional Learning Reviews (PLR)

A variety of credentials, licenses, certifications and training programs have been independently reviewed by the University’s Office of Professional Learning Review (OPLR) and determined to be worth college credit. These evaluations are known as Professional Learning Reviews (PLR). Popular PLR credits include aviation FAA credentials, nuclear industry training, military training, police academies and related training programs, UPS, Ma’alot/Zaidner Institute, nursing (RN license) and other allied health fields. If you have successfully completed any of these eligible reviews conducted by the University, submit the official documentation of completion to receive credit toward your degree program. These credits can be applied to any part of your program, including the area of study, as long as they fit the requirements of your degree and do not exceed the limitation of transferable credits from any one source.


2. American Council on Education (ACE) CREDIT and National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS)

The American Council on Education (ACE) CREDIT and the National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS) contain thousands of credit recommendations for courses, apprenticeships and exams offered by a range of evaluated organizations, from government to business. If you completed any educational programs through organizations like StraighterLine, Saylor Academy or, or training programs through companies like Disney, Starbucks or Microsoft, you can earn college credit for your learning experiences. Both ACE CREDIT and NCCRS publish the full offering of their credit recommendations online. These organizations are constantly updating their credit recommendations, so check the listings often to find new opportunities to earn credit or ensure that you are pursuing credits that will apply toward your degree.

To get college credit for ACE CREDIT recommendations, the University must receive an official ACE transcript that documents your completed courses and exams, which can be created and ordered online, here.


3. Credit-by-Exam

There are dozens of examination programs that allow students to earn credit by taking exams instead of courses. All of these programs test your knowledge on the subject content taught through a college class. When you earn a passing score on these examinations, you prove that you have the knowledge and skills equivalent to that of students who learned the material in a college course. For example, if you have taken a MOOC or open course, you can apply what you learned by taking an equivalent exam and get college credit for a passing score.

There are more than 150 assorted exams from which to select, including TECEP®, the University’s own credit-by-exam program as well as the College-Level Examination Programs (CLEP), DSST Exams, UExcel Exams, the NYU Foreign Language Proficiency Exam in more than 50 languages.


4. Credit by Portfolio Assessment

If you acquired college-level knowledge as a result of training, working or other learning experience, you may be able to earn college credit by demonstrating that knowledge through portfolio development. PLA-100 and PLA-200 are two online courses that help you understand how to earn credit for what you already know. PLA-100 Introduction to Prior Learning Assessment is a 1-credit, 4-week course that provides you with a broad understanding of your options for earning credit, and is completely optional. PLA-200 Introduction to Portfolio Development is a 2-credit course that will teach you how to create your own portfolio in eight weeks. After those eight weeks, you will be able to identify a specific course(s) for which you can earn credit, then write and upload your finished portfolio(s), as long as the credit you are planning to earn will help you with the requirements of your degree. A subject matter expert (SME) will review your portfolio and determine if credit is to be awarded.

The number of credits you can earn through portfolio assessment is limited only by your knowledge. So if you already have the knowledge, you can earn a great deal of credit by completing multiple portfolios.


5. Credit by Single Course, 12-Week PLA Portfolio

This 3-credit, 12-week course section is for students who plan to only earn 3 or 6 credits using portfolio assessment and require structure and guidance through the process. After reviewing the course descriptions in the University’s PLA Description Database, submitting a proposal for approval and registering for the course, you and your mentor will determine the content and length of your portfolio.


6. Credit for Courses Taught

If you have taught college-level courses for college credit, or have taught courses that have been recommended for credit by ACE or NCCRS, you can receive credit for an equivalent or similar course at the University. For the credit to be awarded, you must have taught the class within the last five years and had the sole responsibility of teaching the course, evaluating student performance and submitting course grades. To request credit, fill out the Credit for Courses Taught form. Once the form is received, a subject matter expert will review the documentation, and if awarded, will post to your Academic Evaluation.  


7. Demonstration of Currency (DOC)

As an adult learner, there may be instances where you have earned a professional credit or credential many years ago that is no longer up-to-date due to rapid advancements and changes within a particular industry, most notably, in business and technology. In this case, you may be able to transfer those credits by demonstrating your current knowledge in the subject area content of the course in question through a Demonstration of Currency. For example, if you took a course in C++ Programming in 1995 at a regionally accredited institution, it may not transfer as the course COS-213: C++ Programming required in the bachelor's degree in information technology because it exceeds the 10-year limit on technical courses. However, if you can demonstrate that you have a solid foundation of C++ and that you write, compile and run programs today using the language, you may be able to validate that knowledge and earn credit for it.

DOC validates your current knowledge and any new developments in the field since your courses were completed through a conference with a mentor, either in-person or on the phone. After you have received your Academic Evaluation, you can begin the process by completing either the Demonstration of Currency Application for the associate and/or bachelor's degree programs in the School of Applied Science and Technology or the Demonstration of Currency Application for the bachelor's degree in business administration with the School of Business and Management, depending on your degree program. Complete the form by supplying as much detail as possible, including any recent employment in the field, on-the-job training, certifications, licenses, examinations or other contemporary experiences, as it is possible that your knowledge may be validated without completing the conference, as long as you can supply appropriate documentation. This form is then reviewed, and a phone conference may take place between you and the application reviewer to clarify any questions. Your school will conduct the final DOC review and determine if currency has or has not been met.

Unsure if you're a good candidate for PLA? Take the PLA Self-Assessment, an  interactive online quiz, here and find out. 

Thomas Edison State University

Written by Thomas Edison State University

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