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Prior Learning Assessment

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), an educational association founded in 1974 to promote the acceptance of the awarding of college credit for experiential learning, has led the way in developing and implementing assessment techniques. NSU uses the academic guidelines developed by CAEL and the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in awarding credit.   Northwestern State University (NSU) is among more than 500 colleges and universities that are involved in assessing students' prior learning for academic credit.

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is the process of earning credit for college-level learning acquired through work, training, volunteering, or personal experiences.  Credit may be earned through a variety of methods to include challenge exams for NSU courses, credit for military experience, national exams such as CLEP, and portfolio assessment of prior college-level learning.

Northwestern uses the portfolio assessment method to assess some college-level learning acquired through work, training, volunteering, or personal experiences for CALL students.  The process is discussed below.

NSU's Portfolio Assessment Process

  1. A student interested in portfolio assessment must contact his or her major advisor for an advising appointment.
  2. The student’s advisor will enroll the student in the Foundations of Professional Studies (IDS 3000) course and provide a syllabus for the course(s) being challenged.
  3. During the completion of the course, the instructor and PLA Advocate verify the inclusion of all portfolio components and assist the student in submitting the portfolio to iWebfolio, an online portfolio system..
  4. The student compiles his or her portfolio via iWebfolio.
  5. The student completes the challenge card form with the advisor, pays the required fees, and notifies the PLA advocate that his or her portfolio is ready for credit evaluation.
  6. The PLA advocate identifies the appropriate department to evaluate the portfolio and notifies the student.
  7. The student must immediately lock the portfolio for the 30-day assessment period and submit the portfolio to the appropriate evaluator.
  8. The PLA advocate notifies the appropriate department that a portfolio has been submitted for evaluation.
  9. The portfolio will then be assessed by the appropriate credentialed faculty member based on course learning outcomes.
  10. For the course(s) being assessed, the faculty member indicates approval or need for modification.
  11. If the portfolio is approved:
    • The instructor sends the grade to the Registrar and notifies the CALL staff who will then notify the student.
  12. If the portfolio is not approved and needs modification:
    • The PLA advocate notifies the student that the portfolio has not been approved and asks the student to check iWebfolio for modifications needed to be made.
    • The student has two weeks to make modifications as needed.
    • Once modifications are completed, the student must notify the PLA advocate that the portfolio is ready for resubmission.
    • The student immediately locks the portfolio for a 30-day assessment period and resubmits the portfolio to the appropriate evaluator.
    • The PLA advocate notifies the appropriate department that a portfolio has been resubmitted for the course.
    • The portfolio will then be reassessed by the appropriate department based on course learning outcomes.
    • The faculty member notifies the PLA about the evaluation.
    • If the portfolio is approved, the faculty member sends the grade to the Registrar and notifies the CALL staff who will then notify the student.
    • If the portfolio is not approved for the second time, the faculty member notifies the PLA advocate and the advocate notifies the student that the portfolio has not been approved.  Note:  once a portfolio has not been approved for a second time, the student can no longer submit the portfolio for credit for that particular requested course.