University of Southern Indiana

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) Credit

Most, if not all, institutions of higher learning in the United States possess mechanisms for awarding course credit based on prior learning. In most cases, these institutions award lower-level course credit based on a student’s demonstrated mastery of a subject. The University of Southern Indiana appreciates that students may have acquired college-level knowledge through expertise developed outside the classroom.

Prior learning assessment (PLA) is a student-centered and faculty driven process for awarding college-level credit for demonstrated acquired knowledge. The University follows PLA best practices established by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), and PLA is administered internally through the Provost Office in collaboration with Faculty Senate and the Registrar’s Office. At USI, undergraduate PLA credit takes many forms, including:

  • nationally recognized standardized examinations (e.g., AP, CLEP, IB, etc.)
  • evaluation of military service transcripts (JST, CCAF, etc.)
  • institutionally/departmentally developed challenge exams
  • documentation of professional certification/licensure through passing national exam
  • portfolio review of certain forms of licensure and professional credentials/work experience

General policies for all forms of PLA credit

  • Eligibility: To earn credit for prior learning, a student must be enrolled as an undergraduate student at the University of Southern Indiana.
  • Application of Credit: Credit for prior learning shall be applied to degree or program requirements in the same manner as credits earned through the completion of the equivalent courses at the University of Southern Indiana. Credit will be applied for USI course equivalents when students demonstrate mastery of course objectives. Credit will be counted only once for the same course. Credits earned for prior learning are generally not transferable to other institutions.
  • Residency: Credits for demonstrated knowledge earned through any prior learning method do not fulfill University of Southern Indiana residency requirements for degree completion.
  • Grading: Credit awarded by prior learning assessment at the University of Southern Indiana shall not receive conventional letters grades. The transcript will not indicate an unsuccessful attempt to earn credit for prior learning.
  • Financial Aid: Credit awarded by prior learning assessment may affect financial aid eligibility. Students should consult the Student Financial Assistance Office to determine the impact on financial aid eligibility before conferral of prior learning credit.
  • Transcription: Credit awarded for prior learning will be transcripted indicating the method of prior learning assessment.

Nationally-recognized standardized examinations

USI will grant eligible credit for the standardized exams listed below. Students register for an exam and pay an exam fee through the organization that administers the examination. A PDF listing the minimum score required to receive credit at USI and the courses/credit hours to be awarded for each exam can be downloaded below:

Exam/program Organizational web site Credit at USI (PDF)
Advanced Placement (AP) apcentral.collegeboard.org/ AP Exam Credit
College Level Examination Program (CLEP) clep.collegeboard.org/exams CLEP Exam Credit
International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) www.ibo.org/programmes/diploma-programme IB Credit


In order to be considered official, a score report/transcript must be submitted directly to USI from the organization that administers the exam.


Military service transcripts

Military credit may be granted for eligible coursework based on submission of an official Joint Services Transcript (JST) or Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) transcript, and review of the American Council on Education (ACE) credit recommendation. Students whose JST includes basic training can receive 2 credit hours in KIN, if not already awarded via evaluation of their DD-214 (credit offer form prepared by Veteran, Military, and Family Resource Center). The KIN credit satisfies the Physical Activity and Wellness requirement in Core 39. There is no fee assessed for evaluation of a JST transcript, a CCAF transcript, or submission of a DD-214 credit offer form.


Institutionally/departmentally developed challenge exams

Course-specific prior learning credit may be granted to students who demonstrate achievement of course objectives by successfully completing a departmentally developed challenge exam. Challenge exams are metrics developed by departmental faculty that measure the “whole of content” within the specific course in which it is associated. Challenge exams may also have performative or practical requirements in addition to the examination itself. Challenge exams are administered by the chair or program director in which the course-specific credit is being awarded.

Each departmental challenge exam will incur a fee of $50.00 per credit hour to administer and assess the examination. Online payment is made via the Prior Learning Assessment payment portal. The fee is non-refundable even if the student fails to qualify for credit. A student may only attempt a specific departmental challenge exam twice. A Departmental Challenge Exam form must be filled out for each challenge exam attempted, regardless of the results. Students who fail to acquire course credit based on their challenge exam performance will be required to register for and complete the course.

World Languages & Cultures Departmental Challenge Exam Credit

Students can earn challenge exam credit in a world language if advanced placement is recommended. The student must earn a grade of 'B' or better in the USI world language course into which they have been placed (ARAB, CHIN, FREN, GERM, JPN, LATN, or SPAN). After completing the course with a 'B' or better, the student must visit the World Languages and Cultures department to initiate the World Languages & Cultures Departmental Challenge Exam form to receive credit for the lower-level language course(s). The challenge exam will incur a fee of $50 per credit hour for each course to be awarded as credit. Online payment is made via the Prior Learning Assessment payment portal.

Students who are a native (or near native) speaker of a language other than English and were educated outside the U.S. where the main language of instruction was not English are not eligible to earn challenge exam credit for courses in their native language. Students who have questions about the applicability of credit earned by departmental exam should speak with their academic advisor before completing the challenge exam credit form.


Professional certification/licensure

Credit for prior learning that leads to course-specific credit may be attained based on successful completion of nationally-recognized or state-recognized certification exams, such as but not limited to:

  • Case management
  • Oncology nursing
  • Critical care nursing
  • National Association of Social Workers’ ACSW certification
  • Real estate licensure
  • Broker’s licensure

Students register for a certification exam and pay an exam fee through the organization that administers the examination leading to professional licensure. For further information about PLA credit for professional certification/licensure and to complete the PLA-Certification Credit form, contact the chair or program director of the department in which the course-specific credit is to be awarded.


Portfolio review

The PLA policy allows for the granting of credit for previous experiential learning through a portfolio review. Approved hours are awarded as elective credit, and are not tied to specific course numbers, departmental requirements, or Core 39 requirements. Instead, PLA credit awarded through a portfolio review can be applied toward the total earned hours required for degree completion.

A portfolio review for PLA credit will be assessed a $250.00 fee, and a portfolio review will not be conducted until the fee has been paid by the student/potential student. Online payment is made via the Prior Learning Assessment payment portal. Submission of a portfolio requesting PLA credit does not guarantee that credit will be awarded; the portfolio review fee is non-refundable regardless of the decision to award PLA credit. After the portfolio review committee has made a determination, a completed Portfolio Review form will be submitted to the Registrar's Office. Students who have questions about portfolio review credit should contact the department chair or program director for their major.

Portfolio review policies and process

  • The student must have at least two years of relevant work experience in the specialty area.
  • The portfolio should be prepared by the student wishing to receive PLA credit for experiential learning.
  • The student must submit a PLA portfolio to the appropriate departmental committee for review during their first semester enrolled at USI. Portfolios received after a student’s first semester of enrollment at USI will not be reviewed.
  • PLA credit for portfolio review will only be awarded once per student. Once a student has been awarded portfolio review credit, he/she cannot request further portfolio review credit.
  • The maximum to be awarded by portfolio review is 30 credit hours. Portfolio reviewers and voting committees can make recommendations and award between 0-30 credit hours.
  • Students must provide evidence to address each course objective and additional information as identified by the program and faculty who are content experts.
  • The portfolio should contain, at least, all information recommended by CAEL, and the information regarding the composition of the portfolio should be included on the website of each program that accepts PLA credit. Updated CAEL portfolio review best practices can be found at cael.org.
  • In cases where the American Council for Education (ACE) guide is used to determine PLA credit, only credit recommendations from HLC accredited institutions should be used to make such determinations. Information regarding ACE recommendations can be found at acenet.edu.
  • Course faculty with expertise in the topic will review the evidence and make recommendations to the program chair. The individual that reviews the portfolio leading to the potential awarding of PLA credit must be CAEL trained.
  • The recommendation of the CAEL trained reviewer for each portfolio must be presented to a faculty committee for a formal vote to award credit. Faculty committees should be comprised of no fewer than three full-time faculty members from the specified unit/department.
  • In cases that involve input from other academic units and departments on the USI campus regarding the awarding of PLA credit, the portfolio reviewer should elicit a written recommendation from the chair/program director of the academic unit to present to the voting faculty committee.
  • The program chair will approve course credit based on review of the evidence and recommendation of course faculty.

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