Sessions College Develops PLA Program For Working Pros and Adult Learners

Dr. Meryl P. Epstein is the Dean of Academic Affairs for Sessions College, a fully online, accredited college of visual arts offering degree and certificate programs in Graphic Design, Digital Media, Illustration, Photography, and more. Dr. Epstein joined Sessions College in 2019 and has worked collaboratively with the Session College Team to remain compliant with accreditation standards, focus on curriculum enhancements with an emphasis on student success, and help to develop three Bachelor’s degree programs. Most recently, Dr. Epstein has worked with the Education Team to develop the Sessions College Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) program with a focus on providing working professionals and adult learners the opportunity to earn college credit for their creative and technical expertise advanced through their industry and/or professional experiences.


Dr. Epstein spoke recently with GDUSA about the degree programs offered by Sessions College and their new Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) program developed to benefit adult learners wanting to earn either an Associate or Bachelor’s degree.


GDUSA: What degree programs are offered by Sessions College?

Dr. E: Sessions College, a pioneer in affordable online education for adult and college age learners offers Bachelor’s Degrees in Digital Photography, Graphic Design and Illustration and Associate Degrees Graphic Design, Web Design, Digital Media, Illustration, and Digital Photography. The benefit and focus of our programs are encapsulated in our mission statement: Sessions College inspires current and future art and design professionals to achieve excellence through industry relevant, project-based online education. Our talented, passionate experts teach the artistic, digital, and critical thinking skills required by dynamic creative fields.

GDUSA: What is PLA and how does it benefit students?

Dr. E: So glad you asked, we just launched our Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) program  providing students returning to school from creative industries and/or with other professional training to potentially earn college credits when pursuing our online Associate and Bachelor’s degrees. The program is available to prospective students entering classes in January 2023. Real life experiences are of value! This new program benefits students by recognizing the value of their prior learning by earning college credit which can reduce tuition costs and the time it takes to graduate. The program offers a systematic way to evaluate prior learning that is aligned with best practices in established by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). Prospective students have the opportunity to provide evidence of prior learning that is evaluated by qualified experts. Credit is only awarded when the evidence of skills or knowledge provided meets or exceeds the competencies defined for a Sessions College course, in alignment with program outcomes.

GDUSA: How does the PLA program work?

Dr. E: The PLA program enables adults who have verifiable skills to have those types of skills recognized, thereby providing the opportunity to enter a program, waive subject areas they have already mastered, and focus on new areas of skills on the path to a degree. Students who choose to participate in the PLA program are enrolled in an online facilitated course that features information and guidance to help students to develop evidence-based documentation focused PLA Portfolio(s) to be reviewed by our evaluators. This PLA program has been developed to acknowledge and celebrate students’ prior learning experiences with an emphasis upon student success.

GDUSA: What makes PLA appealing to adult learners?

Dr. E: Prior Learning Assessment can provide adults with skills and experience a fast track to enter their degree program. Our students can complete a Bachelor’s degree in 3.3 years and if a student earns Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) or transfer credit, they might complete their degree program even sooner! We specialize in providing creativity focused online learning and degree programs that can be completed by busy adults in a flexible, timely manner. As one of our talented graduates Shaun Edwards shared, “The biggest thing, for me, is the ability to be flexible in the battle between work, life, and education. Being able to maintain my current work schedule and attend classes without having to make changes to either is perfect for me. There is no need to feel that I cannot further my career and fulfill my dreams because classes are only available during days/times that I am at my job.”

GDUSA: Do you have more information about the benefit of PLA programs?

Dr. E: Yes, according to CAEL data, PLA programs are generally successful because students who undergo prior learning assessment have graduation rates more than 20% higher than the average student (See CAEL article). CAEL sees Prior Learning Assessment in higher education as a way to address a critical credentials gap faced by employers and workers in United States: “By 2027, 70 percent of all jobs will require postsecondary education. Yet 27.9 percent of adults 25 or older have completed high school or less. And 42.8 percent of adults 25 and older do not have a college degree.” In September 2022, recently designated Workforce Development Month by the NAWDP, Sessions College is one institution embracing this society-wide challenge.