Southern California-Based University Saves Students $25 Million and 14,500 Courses by Counting Prior Learning for Credit

National University’s Prior Learning Assessment innovations are dramatically reducing tuition costs and time to completion by automatically counting prior learning credits

LA JOLLA, CALIF. (July 1, 2021) — National University, a private nonprofit university that serves a diverse population of more than 30,000 working adult learners, educators, and Veterans, today announced results from its successful Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) initiative, which has saved students a combined $25 million in unnecessary tuition costs over the past three years. The revamped PLA initiative is part of a series of strategic reforms undertaken by National University to dramatically increase access and affordability and accelerate degree completion for working adults.

“At a time when many working adults are facing financial barriers to their educational and career goals, we need to use every lever at our disposal to increase access and affordability and meet the unique needs of each student through a highly customized approach,” said Dr. Michael R. Cunningham, chancellor of the National University System and interim president of National University. “Rather than presupposing which degree or credential a student may need, this work is about understanding the rich and dynamic learning experiences—in all their complexity—each student brings. It’s about respecting where they are now and where they want to go, saving them time and resources in the process.”

In 2017, the 50-year-old San Diego-based university began to develop a new approach to the decades-old practice of PLA, creating a comprehensive student onboarding process that articulates prior learning experiences that align with an individual’s program and ultimate career goals.

Using the institution’s integrated student information systems, National University built a process for creating and visualizing a comprehensive degree map for each student that includes all course and program requirements, transfer college credits awarded, and prior learning credit granted. By taking these past experiences into account, students are able to reduce the overall time and cost to earning their degree.

As a result of this new approach, from February 2018 to February 2021, students saved approximately $25 million in tuition as a result of prior learning credits granted at the university. In addition to increasing affordability, the university has accelerated progression to the degree for thousands of students, waiving over 14,500 courses through its prior learning strategies.

National University is now working to expand credit opportunities for students through the development of personalized pathways, designed to meet the needs of specific student populations:

  • Criminal Justice: To support and accelerate degree completion for students with federal and state law enforcement training and experience, the university created pathways to public safety programs, such as the B.S. Criminal Justice, where up to 20 percent of the program can be credited through PLA, reducing the overall cost of the degree by nearly $17,000.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): Through National University’s BSN Completion Track, Registered Nurses can now complete their degree in as few as 11 courses, significantly reducing the overall length and cost of the program.
  • Credit for Military Experience: As a Veteran-founded institution with more than 25 percent of current students who are Veterans or active-duty servicemembers, National University has articulated more than 2,000 courses to a variety of military training to help support and speed up degree completion for military-affiliated students.

The university’s approach will continue to evolve over time to meet the needs of its unique students. The university is now in the process of embedding more advanced PLAs into the enrollment process and expanding opportunities for students to highlight their experience through the use of a comprehensive learner record that surfaces skills, competencies, badges, and microcredentials.

About National University:

National University (NU), a Veteran-founded nonprofit, has been dedicated to meeting the needs of hard-working adults by providing accessible, affordable, achievable higher education opportunities since 1971. As San Diego’s largest private nonprofit university, NU offers over 75 online and on-campus programs and flexible four-week courses designed to help students reach their goals while balancing busy lives. Since its founding, the NU community has grown to over 30,000 students and 180,000 alumni around the globe, many of whom serve in helping industries such as business, education, health care, cybersecurity, and law and criminal justice. Learn more at

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