Prior Learning Assessment awards college credit without having to take the course.

With the state of higher education in flux, tuition still a significant issue, and a staggering economy, a group in Essex and Middlesex counties in Massachusetts is creating pathways for local residents and students to earn college credit based on knowledge and skills they’ve learned on the job or in life, saving them time and money.

Led by North Shore Community College, the Northeast Regional Prior Learning Assessment Consortium (NERPLAC) is a partnership between Essex and Middlesex County community colleges, state colleges and universities, private colleges, workforce boards, employers and community-based organizations. It promotes and increases the use of Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) as a strategy to boost college completion, strengthen professional skills for higher paying jobs in regional growth industries, and engender engagement in lifelong learning.

PLA is an assessment given to an individual to determine if they already know the information that would be taught in a college course. If they do in fact have prior knowledge, they are awarded the credit without having to register and take the entire course, making the prospect of receiving a degree much less daunting.

Jim Skelly has worked in IT for over 25 years and couldn’t move up much more in his career without a degree. He enrolled at Middlesex Community College to pursue a degree in cyber security, and because of PLA he will be able to earn his degree in half the time. “Going back has given me a brighter outlook,” Skelly said. “I’m pretty senior in my current position. PLA opens up more compelling options and getting the degree will further my career.”

Through an ambitious but achievable two-year schedule, NERPLAC will become a model for replication, while positively impacting the lives of Essex and Middlesex county residents. The consortium will utilize PLA as an incentive for college enrollment and completion leading to a better-prepared workforce with increased potential within the region and reduction in the credential achievement gap between majority and minority populations.

"North Shore Community College (NSCC) has over 40 years’ experience with PLA and is currently leading a statewide initiative with all 15 community colleges,” said NSCC president Patricia A. Gentile. “Thus, it is very rewarding that thanks to the Essex County Community Foundation, we can now focus on the North Shore region along with our partners and better educate folks who can take advantage of PLA about this option that builds on life's learning and saves time and money for students.”

“Given the impacts of the coronavirus, the timing may be good for this initiative given the number of folks who are out of work, who have realized that they need to change jobs to make more money, or find themselves with the time to build on their education foundation,” she said.

The consortium is funded by Essex County Community Foundation and is being led by North Shore Community College in collaboration with participating institutions of higher education including, Endicott College, Gordon College, Middlesex Community College, Northern Essex Community College, Salem State University, and University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

Partners marketing PLA and engaging employers include NSWIB/CC, Merrimack Valley WIB/Valley Works CC and Greater Lowell WDB/CC. Employers and community-based organizations include Advances Learning Center, Wellspring, Inc., LEO, Inc., and Action, Inc.

For more information about this program or NERPLAC, contact Heather Mayer at



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