All learners have been through experiences that have shaped them, their perspectives, and understanding of the world. Students, especially adult students, bring those experiences with them as they enter the classroom, coming in with a deep well of personal and professional knowledge that benefits them in their area of study.

Universities, including Stevenson University Online, offer Credit for Prior Learning (CPL), inviting students to maximize their personal, professional, and military experience for credit. This also includes certificates and college credit students may have already earned.

What is Credit for Prior Learning (CPL)?

The American Council on Education (ACE) defines CPL as, “academic credit granted for demonstrated college-level equivalencies gained through learning experiences outside of the college classroom, using one of the well-established methods for assessing extra-institutional learning, including third-party validation of formal training or individualized assessment, such as portfolios.” A key component to CPL is demonstrating the knowledge gained from these experiences.

What are the benefits of CPL?

Credit for Prior Learning is a highly beneficial option in order to save time and money, reduce debt, increase likelihood of graduation, and reduce the duplication of learning.

A 2010 study by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) showed that graduation rates were 2.5 times higher for students coming in with CPL, and shaved an average of 2.5 – 10.1 months off the time it took them to complete their degree. Additionally, CAEL estimates that students with Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) credits can save from $1,605-$6,000 over the course of their education, depending on the type of institution they attend and how much credit they earn.

How do I apply for CPL?

A study by ACE found that a majority of learners (82%) who apply for CPL are successful in earning academic credit, making it a worthwhile process to pursue.

At Stevenson University Online, there are several options that can benefit undergraduate and graduate students, including: a Prior Learning Portfolio, exams, and certificates. Exams are only available to individuals pursuing an undergraduate degree. Through CPL, students applying for undergraduate programs can earn up to 30 credits towards degree requirements. Graduate students may earn up to six credits.

The Prior Learning Portfolio is an opportunity for students to demonstrate their learning from their experience via producing an experiential learning narrative supported by documentation. Creating a Prior Learning Portfolio is a rewarding experience for students, but it also is a time-consuming endeavor. Describing learning from experience is hard work and requires much reflection, thinking, writing, and rewriting. The amount of time it takes students to complete a portfolio varies from student to student, but the typical time frame has been one to two months. Stevenson offers a Portfolio Handbook, guiding the student through the process, as well as the support of their Student Success Coach.

Certifications, like Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Project Management Institute (PMI), and Microsoft Office Specialist are popular options for undergraduate and graduate students seeking CPL. Students who have certifications not listed on Stevenson’s website can submit them for consideration.

National exams are another option available to undergraduate students, most notably the College-Level Examination Process (CLEP) and Dantes Subject Standardized Tests (DSST). Both offer standardized tests covering a wide range of subject matters. CLEP typically covers content taught in lower-level courses, while DSST covers lower and upper-level material.

Additionally, Kim McGlaughlin, Academic Transcript Evaluator, states, “Students in undergraduate programs with unfulfilled Stevenson Educational Experience (SEE) requirements can use CPL options to reduce the time needed to complete their degree, and save on tuition costs. There are many CLEP and DSST exams that give students the opportunity to meet SEE, major course, and general elective requirements without needing to complete a class.”

Can active military or veterans take advantage of CPL?

Military veterans or active military may absolutely use their experience towards Credit for Prior Learning through the various options offered. For those interested in pursuing CPL through exams, DSST is an excellent option. The first attempt on any DSST exam by an active duty, guard, or reserve military member is funded by DANTES and some veterans are eligible to be reimbursed for the exams. Other exam options are available.

Additionally, ACE provides universities with credit recommendations for students based on military transcripts. ACE supplies official transcripts to students who successfully complete a course, examination, or certification with an ACE recommendation. The transcript reviews are then conducted by Stevenson academic administrators for final approval. More information on ACE’s Military Guide can be found here.

How do I get started?

Accepted students should reach out to their Student Success Coach to petition to earn credit through the Prior Learning Portfolio, or to determine if other CPL options may be beneficial in completing their degree. Any additional questions about CPL can be directed to or 1-877-531-7118.

Stevenson University Online provides career focused bachelor’s, master’s and certificate programs in convenient, 8 week sessions to meet the needs of working adults. Engaged faculty and staff deliver one-on-one attention that embodies Stevenson University Online’s commitment to student success.