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Credit for prior learning

Many students who participate in learning experiences outside the classroom wish to earn college credit for their work. Columbia College offers a number of ways students may earn such credit. CLEP tests, ACE credit and course test-outs are the preferred means because they require a theory-base for awarding credit, have national norms/criteria or both. If none of the above credit-awarding methods are an option, Columbia College awards credit for prior learning (CPL).

Before applying for CPL credits, students must have completed 12 hours of Columbia College credit. Students also must have completed ENGL 111 and ENGL 112 or their equivalent with a grade of C or better. These credits, if taken at Columbia College, may be included in the 12-hour requirement.

Credit award

Columbia College courses that offer CPL credit are generally applicable to degree requirements. A maximum of 15 credits of prior learning can be awarded. CPL is not awarded where college credit in a similar has been earned. CPL credit does not count toward Columbia College residency.

Courses for which CPL is available:


ARTS 120 Drawing I
ARTS 130 Painting I
ARTS 150 Creative Photography I
ARTS 216 Graphic Design I
ARTS 262 Printmaking I

Business Administration

ACCT 381 Federal Income Tax – Individuals (see note 1)
FINC 295 Risk and Insurance (see note 2)
FINC 298 Personal Financial Planning (see note 3)
FINC 354 Investments (see note 4)
FINC 397 Principles of Real Estate (see note 5)
MGMT 152 Business Mathematics
MGMT 330 Principles of Management
MGMT 341 Small Business Management
MKTG 352 Personal Selling and Sales Management 

Note: Individuals who currently hold a professional designation/license can receive credit for the above courses as indicated upon submission of a statement of designation/license renewal for the appropriate professional regulatory organization. Designations/licenses must be active at the time credit is sought.

Certified Personal Accounts (CPA) with an undergraduate accounting degree and at least five years of work experience in a public or private organization.

  • Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) or Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriter (CPCU)
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) or NASD General Securities Representative (Series 7)
  • Real Estate Salesperson or Broker’s License

Computer and mathematical sciences 

CISS 234 Visual Basic
CISS 236 COBOL Programming
CISS 238 Java Programming
CISS 240 Introduction to Programming
CISS 241 Introduction to Programming
CISS 242 Programming II
CISS 243 Programming III
CISS 245 Advanced Programming
CISS 280 System Analysis and Design I
CISS 285 Structured Systems Analysis and Design
CISS 320 System Analysis and Design II
CISS 325 System Analysis, Design and Implementation Projects

Criminal Justice Administration and social work

CJAD 201 Criminal Investigation
CJAD 203 Crime Scene Investigation
CJAD 303 Crime Scene Photography
CJAD 306 Military Justice Systems
CJAD 351 Community Based Corrections
MSCJ 561 Crisis Intervention


EDUC 420 Student Teaching in the Elementary School
EDUC 422 Student Teaching in the Secondary School
EDUC 424 Student Teaching in the Middle School
EDUC 499 Internship
EDUC 699 Internship

History and Social Sciences





BIOL 230  Medical Terminology

Standards for quality

CPL is evaluated using the following criteria:

  • It has general applicability outside the specific situation in which it was acquired;
  • It articulates theories, principles and general techniques;
  • It has both a theoretical and practical understanding of the subject area;
  • It may be assessed by a faculty expert;
  • It is of college-level quality as determined by the faculty expert;
  • It meets specific course objectives or competencies and has a relationship to degree aspirations or educational goals;
  • The knowledge or skill represented as learning is current with that expected in the classroom/employment situation; and
  • The level of confidence equals or exceeds what would normally be considered a C level of performance in the classroom. 

Portfolio assessment

Students seeking CPL must submit a portfolio of relevant information that describes the learning acquired in a specific course area. Portfolio contents are described below. Students must have adequate writing skills (ENGL 111 and ENGL 112 are prerequisites). An evaluation assessment fee of $75 per credit hour is required for each course submitted for review. This fee is payable upon submission of the portfolio.

No additional fees are assessed if credit is awarded. Each portfolio is assessed by a full-time faculty member in the corresponding subject. If the faculty member determines that the knowledge of the subject is college-level and equal to a grade of C or better, credit will be awarded. If the knowledge is judged to be insufficient, the faculty member will deny credit. If the faculty member decides more information is needed to make a recommendation, the student will be asked to submit additional evidence.

Acceptability of CPL

Each college has policies regarding acceptance of CPL. It is the student’s responsibility to know the CPL acceptance policy for any school to which CPL credit may be transferred. Most employers recognize CPL, but some do not. It is the student’s responsibility to know employer policy for CPL.

Pre-portfolio activities

Students are expected to undertake the following preliminary activities:

Conduct a knowledge inventory.

Review job history, area of study or special training, volunteer work, hobbies and other activities. List areas of knowledge and skills acquired.

Choose areas for which college credit is sought.

As to be demonstrated in the portfolio, evaluate prior learning based on ability to demonstrate knowledge. Ensure that it is equivalent to a college course and to the need of college credits in that subject.

Find appropriate course descriptions.

For each subject search the Columbia College catalog to located a description of an actual course that best reflects the knowledge. Make certain the course has been approved for the relevant degree program and that it is on the list of courses approved for portfolio assessment.

Portfolio preparation

Students are expected to prepare the portfolio as follows:

  • Cover page
  • Table of Contents
  • Chronological record
  • Life experiences
  • Competencies
  • Goal statement
  • Narrative
  • Subjects and course descriptions
  • Documentation

Collect materials that document knowledge of the subject. Documents include samples of work, letters of verification from employers or others, notes taken in training courses, transcripts, annotated bibliography or any other materials that offers proof.

Describe the content and process of learning. Write a narrative that outlines the learning – explaining how it was acquired and introducing the materials provided.

Portfolio assembly

Each course requires its own folder or binder. All information in the portfolio is typewritten using Arial style 12 font, double space, one-inch margins on all sides and numbered pages.

Once a portfolio is submitted, it is an academic record that becomes the property of Columbia College. It cannot be returned, and will be retained for one year.

Materials are arranged as follows:

Cover page
On one page (maximum) summarize the learning that occurred during like experiences that is proposed for credit.
Table of Contents
Chronicle record: List all jobs held, including full time, part-time and volunteer. Note duties, skills and expertise used in performing job tasks.
Life Experience
List community/religious activities, clubs/organization memberships, training programs or non-credit courses, hobbies/recreation, culture pursuits, independent research.
(Source: American Council on Education)

  • Administration or effectively managing, handling and directing places, units, events and situations.
  • Communication or effectively listening, sending and responding to messages in a variety of audiences.
  • Critical thinking or effectively analyzing problems, ideas and situations.
  • Creativity or effectively producing innovative ideas, designs and methods for new and/or existing situations, events and procedures as well as artistic expression.
  • Interpersonal relations or effectively interacting with others.
  • Investigation and research or effectively seeking out information.
  • Supervision and leadership or effectively overseeing and directing people.
Goal statement
The goal statement cannot exceed one page in length. It contains a discussion of how educational goals relate to the student’s professional life and personal goals. Students should ask themselves the following series of questions (Source: Vermont State Colleges and their Student handbook Educational Assessment and Portfolio Preparation).
Am I interested in:
  • learning a new profession?
  • broadening my knowledge and skills in certain areas?
  • qualifying for a graduate or professional school?
  • increasing my competencies on the job?
  • enriching my life through learning?
  • acquiring credentials for career advancement?
  • changing careers?
The Narrative conveys to the faculty member knowledge of the material outline in the course description. The narrative is in two sections of the portfolio: the life experiences analysis and the competencies section. A successful narrative:

  • is well written, using professional vocabulary as appropriate
  • describes knowledge of the subject
  • specifies when, where and how knowledge was acquired
  • relates learning to every topic noted in the course description and syllabus
  • introduces each piece of evidence
  • clearly shows a relationship between evidence and course material

The narrative must be at least two pages and no more than 10 pages in length. It should be organized either chronologically, citing each learning experience in sequence, or topically, discussing each topic within the course separately, and grouping the learning experiences according to topic.

Subjects and Course Descriptions

Compare the inventory of competencies to Columbia College coursework for ideas about subjects appropriate for the portfolio. After identifying proper subject areas, choose course descriptions to match them. Inclusion of the course description in the portfolio proves that the subject is college-level, indicates its credit value and summaries claimed knowledge. The college course master syllabi file contains course descriptions and can be found at or in the college catalog.


Evidence provides direct documentation of knowledge and skills, pertains specifically to the topics in the course descriptions and supports the statement in the narrative about learning experiences. Typically two types of evidence are required: Primary and secondary.

Primary Official Documentation

  • letters from employers/supervisors (originals)
  • letters for business partners/consultants (originals)
  • letters for clients and vendors (originals)
  • letters from leaders of professional community organizations (originals)
  • job descriptions, job evaluations and military evaluations (copies)
  • education and award certificates/licenses (copies)

All primary official documentation must have organization letterhead/logo. Describe position or activity and include accurate dates in month/year format.

Secondary Official Documentation

  • letters from members of professional community organizations/activities (originals)
  • notarized letters from coworkers, friends, family members who have specific knowledge/activity (originals)

All secondary official documentation must be notarized if an organization letterhead/logo is not available and must describe position or activity and include telephone contact number and accurate dates in month/year format.

Evidence of Training

Evidence to document training must reflect the amount of time devoted to the training, material covered and level of proficiency reached. Training is documented through one or more of the following:

  • course transcripts, official course description or syllabus
  • completed class assignments
  • notes taken in class
  • training manual, textbook or other literature used
  • graded test, reports or other work evaluations
  • annotated bibliography or list of materials used
  • certificate of attendance
  • proof of enrollment
  • diploma
  • assigned reading list

Evidence of Work-Related Training

The following pieces of evidence of document learning related to paid or unpaid employment:

  • reports, proposals or other material written on the job
  • awards of citations
  • blueprints, schematics, artwork or other work products
  • military separation papers
  • resumes
  • letters from supervisors or employers
  • licenses
  • performance evaluations
  • membership in professional trade organizations
  • newspaper, magazine clippings
  • descriptions of job requirements
  • description of license or certification requirements

Other Forms of Evidence

Activities including community service for personal causes may be documented as follows:

  • recommendations
  • awards
  • newspaper or magazine clippings
  • letters of corroboration from co-volunteers, clients served, supervisors
  • a list of books read
  • annotated bibliography
  • patents obtained
  • a list of countries lived in and traveled
  • exhibits such as photographs, videotapes, etc,
  • programs from performances

Letters of Verification

Letters from employers, work associates or community leaders who have first-hand knowledge of your involvement and abilities may be needed. The requests for a letter should include:

  • statement that the purpose of the letter is for verification of learning rather than a recommendation
  • explanation of nature of working relationship
  • expectations and level of accomplishments
  • writer’s qualification for commenting on activities and expertise
  • Information related to the course description
  • Comments directly and separately on each learning experience

Submission of portfolio

Send the portfolio to the assistant dean for the Division of Adult Higher Education, Columbia College 1001 Rogers St., Columbia, MO 65216. Attached to the portfolio a check or money order for the assessment fee. The assessment fee for each course submitted for evaluation is $75 per credit hour. Anticipate 60 to 90 days for the evaluation process to be completed. Student will be notified of the evaluation outcome and credit, if awarded, will posted to the transcript at no additional charge.


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