Academic Credit for Prior Learning
What is ACPL?
Academic Credit for Prior Learning (ACPL) is credit for things learned before entering a college or training program. All of Washington's public colleges award ACPL.
Prior learning includes:
- Work experience
- Life experience
- Military experience
- Formal and informal education
- Training from in-state, out-of-state, or foreign schools
ACPL allows students to receive formal credit and recognition for their existing knowledge and skills. This avoids people taking courses for things they already know, which saves time and money. In most cases, it will cost less for students to get ACPL than it would to take a college course.
How do students get ACPL?
Methods and costs for assessing and awarding ACPL vary by institution.
- Standardized tests like CLEP and DANTES
- Course challenge examinations
- Portfolio assessment
- Crosswalks between work-based learning and college courses
ACPL Spotlight: South Seattle College MOET degree
The MOET Degree (Multi-Occupation in Engineering & Technology) at South Seattle College gives students a big boost through ACPL. Students can earn 60% of the credits towards a transferrable associate degree by validating their skills through military and workplace experiences and training. The program also provides high-touch student support, centering equity by recruiting and retaining historically underrepresented populations in STEM fields. Learn more.
What are the institutional roles in effective ACPL implementation?
Effective advising is crucial to a successful ACPL program. NWCCU guideline 2.G.6 specifies that the “institution designs, maintains, and evaluates a systematic and effective program of academic advisement to support student development and success. Personnel responsible for advising students are knowledgeable of the curriculum, program and graduation requirements, and are adequately prepared to successfully fulfill their responsibilities. Advising requirements and responsibilities of advisors are defined, published, and made available to students.” This is no less true of ACPL than for any other type of credit.
The most effective advising approach for ACPL is to ensure it is integrated into the academic degree advising process. This begins with the admissions process. Students who have the potential to earn credit for their prior learning should be made aware of that from the very beginning of their interactions with staff. Rather than focusing exclusively on the classes a student needs to take to graduate, advisors can start by asking, “Tell me about yourself.” They can also ask students for a resume, which can help to reinforce the connection between learning and work. If students identify past experiences that could translate into college credit that is relevant to their studies, advisors can refer students to credit-by-exam programs, the ACE National Guide, or an institution’s portfolio assessment program. By doing this, advisors can start the process with students to explore the potential for linking their prior learning to their studies. The goal is to normalize ACPL by integrating it into the curriculum and students’ progress toward their education and career goals.
Incorporating ACPL into advising can be challenging, and it may be a new experience for many advisors. Depending on how many programs utilize ACPL, there may be new degree pathways to learn, new crosswalks to understand, as well as new terminology to become familiar with, and a deeper understanding of how skills and knowledge can be transferable from a workplace or military setting to an academic one. Someone who has coached an athletic team, for instance, may have developed management skills, logistics, communication skills, and more. Advisors would need to listen for cues like this and others that might suggest alignment of skills and knowledge with the requirements of the curriculum.
The registrar is tasked with keeping track of the type and amount of credit awarded for prior learning. This includes identifying the source of prior learning credit, documentation that students are required to submit to have credit recognized, how credit will be transcribed and how credit will be applied towards a degree.
Registrars should ensure that a process is in place for ensuring the currency of credit awarded. Has a particular certification in network technology, for example, become outdated, or has the degree program been revised so that the certificate is no longer relevant?
If students intend to transfer from one institution to another or from a two-year credential to a baccalaureate degree, any such arrangements should be clarified and documented.
ACPL can be challenging for credential and credit evaluators responsible for the review of transcripts and transfer credit from another institution. Unlike courses that are being transferred from accredited institutions, many extra-institutional learning experiences that can be awarded credit may not exist in a database or equivalency guide. Credential evaluators need to have consistent policies in place so they, in turn, can create consistent credit awards for external learning to ensure equity and fairness.
In many institutions, individual academic departments determine the course equivalencies for various types of ACPL. It is important that academic departments make these determinations to ensure that students who bring in prior learning have that learning recognized appropriately so that they can succeed in their programs of study.
However, those determinations must be collected in a consistent manner so that evaluators have a single source for reference that is easy to interpret and manage. As with the Registrar’s Office, depending on where the evaluators are housed in the institution, evaluators can create a spreadsheet template that departments can use to enter credit awards and identify equivalent courses, the number of credits awarded, time constraints (e.g., must the learning experience have been completed within a particular timeframe), exceptions, required documentation or assessments and coding. Alternatively, evaluators can use such a template to convert credit recommendations for prior learning into a consistent system of evaluation and awarding of credit.
Again, as with the Registrar’s Office, a process should be in place to ensure the currency of awards. Has a particular certification in network technology, for example, become outdated, or has the degree program been revised so that the certificate is no longer relevant? Ideally credential evaluators will coordinate with the Registrar’s Office, and implement a communications process for regular check-ins with faculty and academic departments.
The administration of the institution should ensure that ACPL policies are aligned with the mission of the institution, the demographics of the students served, and the goals of the programs offered.
National research studies and data analysis by organizational leaders in prior learning, such as CAEL and others, support the expansion of ACPL policies. For example, as an institution considers the increasing need to generate revenues, the expanded use of ACPL might seem to be counterproductive or counterintuitive. However, studies at many institutions have shown that students who earn credit for their prior learning, regardless of the method used, often take more courses at the institutions where they are enrolled and persist and complete their programs at higher rates than their fellow students who do not use ACPL3. In addition, ACPL can often be a valuable recruiting tool for working learners, as it serves to validate the learning they have already accomplished, helps to address the all-too-common “imposter syndrome” that many working learners experience, and links learning more clearly and explicitly to the workplace. Gathering data on how an institution uses ACPL, or how it could serve the needs of students, can help develop a better understanding of when and where to promote it and advocate for its use. What sort of resources are available to promote, integrate, and evaluate the use of ACPL on campus? How important is it to prioritize ACPL? Which programs that directly involve collaborations with or serve the needs of local employers, would be the best candidates for ACPL policies?
Key ACPL Policies and Guidance
The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), the regional accrediting body for Washington institutions of higher education, established new Standards of Accreditation in January 2020. Under the new Standards, Standard 1.C.8, while recognizing institutional autonomy, emphasizes the need for clear standards for ACPL: transfer credit and credit for prior learning should be accepted according to “clearly defined, widely published, and easily accessible policies that provide adequate safeguards to ensure academic quality. In accepting transfer credit [including ACPL], the receiving institution ensures that such credit accepted is appropriate for its programs and comparable in nature, content, academic rigor and quality.”
In Washington, ACPL is structured through statute, administrative code, and accreditation standards. There are certain requirements for ACPL that the Washington State Legislature, WSAC, and NWCCU have codified or specified.
RCW 28B.77.230, Academic credit for prior learning—Goals—Work group—Reports.
WSAC shall convene the academic credit for prior learning work group to coordinate and implement the identified goals in statute.
The following goals shall be a collaboration of and carried out by the state board of community and technical colleges, the council of presidents, the four-year institutions of higher education, the private independent higher education institutions, and the private career schools.
- Increase the number of students who receive academic credit for prior learning and the number of students who receive credit for prior learning that counts towards their major or towards earning their degree, certificate, or credential, while ensuring that credit is awarded only for high quality, course-level competencies;
- Increase the number and type of academic credits accepted for prior learning in institutions of higher education, while ensuring that credit is awarded only for high quality, course-level competencies;
- Develop transparent policies and practices in awarding academic credit for prior learning;
- Improve prior learning assessment practices across the institutions of higher education;
- Create tools to develop faculty and staff knowledge and expertise in awarding credit for prior learning and to share exemplary policies and practices among institutions of higher education;
- Develop articulation agreements when patterns of credit for prior learning are identified for particular programs and pathways; and
- Develop outcome measures to track progress on the goals outlined in this section.
WSAC shall report progress on the goals and outcome measures annually by December 31.
History of Revised Code of Washington
- Amended in 2012 with passage of HB 2483
- Amended in 2011 with passage of HB 1795; Note HB 1795 was the result of prior legislation in 2009 SB 1328 and 2010 SB 6357 and SB 6359
- 28B.76.235 recodified in 2012 as RCW 28B.77.200
- 28B.76.235 Master list of high school courses qualifying for postsecondary credit and qualifying examination scores — Publication on website.
Military Training ACPL Statute
Military Training ACPL Statute
RCW 28B.10.057 (2014) requires that each institution of higher education adopt a policy to award academic credit for military training applicable to the student's certificate or degree requirements. The policy shall apply to any individual who is enrolled in the institution of higher education and who has successfully completed a military training course or program as part of his, her or their military service that is: recommended for credit by a national higher education association that provides credit recommendations for military training courses and programs; included in the individual's military transcript issued by any branch of the armed services; or other documented military training or experience.
Each institution of higher education is required to:
- Develop a procedure for receiving the necessary documentation to identify and verify the military training course or program that an individual is claiming for academic credit.
- Provide a copy of the institutional policy for awarding academic credit for military training to any applicant who listed prior or present military service in his or her application.
- Develop and maintain a list of military training courses and programs that have qualified for academic credit.
- Submit the institutional policy for awarding academic credit for military training to the prior learning assessment work group convened pursuant to RCW 28B.10.057.
SBCTC Guidance (2017)
SBCTC Guidance (2017)
From the SBCTC Policy Manual, Chapter 4:
4.10.40 Academic Credit for Prior Learning (ACPL)
Community and technical colleges may assess and award credit for prior learning that has occurred outside the classroom and/or through previous educational endeavors. Four categories are established for Academic Credit for Prior Learning and are specifically denoted on a student’s transcript: Credit by Testing, Prior Experiential Learning, Extra-Institutional Learning and Course Challenges (see RCW 28B.77.230; RCW 28B.10.053; Academic Credit for Prior Learning under Policy Resources below).
A. A grade may only be assessed for Course Challenges when the student is registered and tuition is charged per the college grading policy
B. All other prior learning categories must receive a Pass or equivalent grade designation per the college grading policy
C. Dual credit exams (AP, IB, and CI) must follow the system policy for awarding of credit (see 4.60.50 Credit Policy for Dual Credit Exams)
D. Credit earned through Academic Credit for Prior Learning at one college will be accepted toward the appropriate course or program at any other community and technical system college
Policy Resources: Information on procedures for coding, transcribing, and recording ACPL can be found on the SBCTC website.
CTC Reciprocity Policy
CTC Reciprocity Policy
Approved by Instruction Commission, February 2005
Residency Requirement Updated by the Articulation & Transfer Council, April 2005
Diversity Requirement added by Instruction Commission, May 2011
Added statement that includes reciprocity of Prior Learning Credit, May 2012
It is healthy and desirable to promote diversity among the transfer curricula at various community and technical colleges. This diversity allows colleges to meet specific community needs and interests, to develop innovations and best practices, and to capitalize on unique faculty and institutional resources, campus to campus.
However, as students, of necessity, transfer among colleges, it is equally important to ensure that they are not penalized by the differences in the specific requirements imposed by individual campuses within the general guidelines of the Transfer degrees (DTA and AS-T) as approved by the Instruction Commission.
In the spirit of compromise between these competing interests, colleges of the Washington State CTC system have developed and adopted guidelines, as follows, for reciprocity of transfer coursework among colleges.
Reciprocity of Individual Courses
If a student transfers an individual course that meets a Communication Skills, Quantitative Skills or Distribution Requirement at the sending college for a specific transfer degree, that course is considered to have met that requirement at the receiving college for a similar transfer degree, even if this course does not have an exact equivalent and even if the course credit is awarded through prior learning credit.
If a student transfers an individual course that meets a Diversity Requirement at the sending college for a specific transfer degree, that course is considered to have met that requirement at the receiving college for a similar transfer degree, even if this course does not have an exact equivalent and even if the course credit is awarded through prior learning credit.
Reciprocity of Distribution Areas/Specific Requirements
The receiving institution will accept an entire Distribution, Communication Skills, Quantitative Skills, or other requirement for a transfer degree as met if that student:
A. Has met the sending institution’s residency credit and meets the receiving institution's policy on continuous enrollment (enrollment pattern needed to complete under the catalog at entrance
B. Has met the entire Communication Skills, Quantitative Skills or Distribution Requirement of a transfer degree, according to the sending institution’s degree criteria*
The receiving institution will accept an entire Diversity Requirement for a transfer degree as being met if that student has met the entire Diversity Requirement of a transfer degree, according to the sending institution’s degree criteria.
C. Has maintained a cumulative college-level grade-point average (GPA) of 2.0 or better at the sending institution.
The receiving institution agrees to consider the requirement area met if these conditions, upon review, are met. (There is no limit to the number of requirement areas to be considered.)
*Note: Example criteria include number of disciplines, allowable disciplines, credits, sequence requirements (or lack thereof). In all these instances, the sending institution’s requirements govern for that particular Communication Skills, Quantitative Skills or Distribution Requirement component.
In view of staff limitations for transcript review, the receiving institution cannot be expected to search every transfer-in transcript to see if the reciprocity provisions apply. It is, therefore, the student’s responsibility to initiate the reciprocity process and to gather appropriate documentation as needed. However, all institutions agree to make transfer-in students aware of these provisions, to publish them in college catalogs and other transfer-related resources, and to provide transfer-in students with a clear contact point and process for pursuing reciprocity.
The receiving college retains the right to impose unique, local prerequisite and graduation requirements. Such requirements might include learning communities/coordinated studies requirements, writing-intensive course requirements, and physical education/health requirements.
Transcripts will include notation of requirements met by reciprocity. Notations will include the name of the sending institution.
ICRC ACPL Transfer Policies
ICRC ACPL Transfer Policies
Policies defining and describing the transferability of ACPL are included in the Intercollege Relations Commission Handbook (2020) Appendix K
“It is the understanding of the representatives of participating baccalaureate colleges that associate degrees meeting the DTA Guidelines would ordinarily include no more than 15 credits…, unless a special agreement had been arranged with the particular receiving institution….Community college representatives should be aware that credits granted for CLEP exams, military experience and training courses, life and work experience, and other nontraditional credits are also not acceptable at most colleges and are restricted within the same 15- credit limit.
ACPL Workgroup Overview
ACPL Workgroup Overview
In 2012, the Legislature directed WSAC to convene an academic credit for prior learning workgroup and give an annual report on progress toward the following goals. The report is due by December 31 each year. WSAC submitted the most recent report in 2020.
The Academic Credit for Prior Learning Workgroup
The workgroup has many goals.
1. Increase the number of students who receive prior learning credit.
2. Increase the number of students who have prior learning credit that counts toward their major or credential.
3. Increase the number and type of prior learning credits accepted by public postsecondary schools.
4. Ensure public postsecondary schools only award academic credit for high quality, college-level competencies.
5. Develop transparent policies and practices to award prior learning credit.
6. Improve prior learning assessment practices at public postsecondary schools.
7. Create tools to develop faculty and staff knowledge and expertise.
8. Share exemplary policies and practices among public postsecondary schools.
9. Develop articulation agreements for common programs and pathways.
10. Develop outcome measures to track progress and goals.
July 20, 2023 – Remote
May 23, 2023 – Remote
March 21, 2023 – Remote
February 10, 2023 – Remote
December 16, 2022 – Remote
November 3, 2021 - Remote
December 8, 2020 - Remote
August 27, 2020 - Remote
June 30, 2019 - Highline Community College
October 15, 2018 - Workgroup Webinar and Discussion
Annual ACPL Workshop - October 20, 2017 – TBD
September 7, 2017 – Highline Community College
Agenda | Meeting Notes | Handouts | Meeting Participants
April 10, 2017 – Highline Community College