Paying for credits through prior learning assessments

Tests for credit afford opportunity to veteran looking for quicker route to degree

Paul Niedonovich served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 14 years in both the primary and supplementary reserve, and the private sector. Two years ago he suffered an injury and was deemed un-deployable. However, Niedonovich wanted to find a way to still serve his country, and with the sponsorship from Veteran Affairs Canada, was able to return to a post-secondary institution of his choice in order to graduate with a degree and work in a government sector job.

Choosing to obtain a dual degree in general studies and business, Niedonovich, who currently resides in Yarmouth, N.S., registered at TRU Open Learning because of its flexibility with Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) courses. PLAR courses allow students to gain credits three ways: pre-assessed training from employees or selected organizations, creating a portfolio of documented learning that fits within a courses learning outcomes or challenging each course through one final exam.

“I have done a lot of self-study, reading books watching documentaries and just basically absorbing as much information as I could like a sponge over the [14] years,” Niedonovich said.

The ability to self-study is something Niedonovich suggests in order to successfully complete this kind of testing.

Paul Niedonovich hopes to finish his degree quickly and get a government job so that he can continue serving his country. (Submitted)

Paul Niedonovich hopes to finish his degree quickly and get a government job so that he can continue serving his country. (Submitted)

In order to challenge a course, students must pay $100 per credit, or roughly $300 per course. Niedonovich decided to try a fourth option that costs roughly $150 per three credits. Dantes Subject Standardized Test (DSST) and College Level Examination Program (CLEP) are prior-learning assessments created across the border that are often used in the military for those interested in continuing their education while serving. Niedonovich was told about these options when he first joined over a decade ago, and since then both assessment services have become widely used by college students across the country.

Niedonovich spoke with a TRU Open Learning advisor to determine what courses he needed to graduate, and shortly after contacted the DSST and CLEP testing center attached to University of Southern Maine. Since then, he has completed 48 credits worth of tests within 25 calendar days.

His DSST and CLEP credits will be transferred to his degree through Open Learning as PLAR credits, which means he receives a pass or fail for the credits. Niedonovich already has one year of prior experience and previous college courses he took before serving, leaving 90 credits to complete. Niedonovich has saved $2,400 and said he spent roughly 30 to 45 hours studying for each test.

The tests are created in a format similar to the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs) that are widely used across the U.S. Upon registering, tests are based off of specific resources that can then be accessed through libraries or found online. With roughly 100 to 125 questions, tests take 90 minutes to 3 hours to complete. Niedonovich has done well so far, and his grades are currently in the process of being accepted by TRU Open Learning.

His sponsorship through Veteran Affairs has allowed him two years to complete his degree, which is one of the main reasons Niedonovich decided to not attend classes on-site for his required courses. The last time Niedonovich traveled to the University of Southern Maine he decided to take nine tests within five days. During the eighth test, Niedonovich passed out from fatigue mid-exam.

“First, my depth perception kinda went out and I could see the screen going to two feet away to three feet away, then it was an inch in front of my eyes and then it would zoom back and forth,” Niedonovich said. “I slumped down in my chair. I was basically done for the day.”

Niedonovich received a D on that exam but was considered a non-credit pass. He is currently waiting for the 180-day wait period to pass before he can retake the test.

When asked if he plans on taking another group of tests in the same week again, Niedonovich said he most likely would not.

“My brain was fried,” he said. Niedonovich wanted to challenge himself and actually finished a semester (four courses) worth of credits in a single day.

Niedonovich believes this cost-effective and time-saving strategy could be useful for other students to consider, but does want to take on-site courses to feel the campus experience.

“It’s not for everybody. If you are a person who has a difficulty in basically going and learning on your own, or if you typically need a structuralized environment for learning and an established set schedule, to enable yourself to learn, then these kinds of exams may not be to your thing. They rely on you to independently study,” Niedonovich said.

Niedonovich first looks at the content guide for a course before registering to see if he thinks he’ll need help with the course from a professor. He also suggests trying one course out first before registering for many to make sure this kind of testing structure is right for the student.

DSST and CLEP testing might be the alternative choice for those just looking to complete credits for their courses, but the classroom experience is always something to be considered.