Advocating for Student Access and Success: Credit for Prior Learning through the California MAP Initiative

ASCCC CTE Leadership Committee

The mission of the California MAP Initiative is to increase equitable access, completion, transfer, and degree attainment for working adults and veterans by offering credit for prior learning (CPL) for industry certifications, military training, portfolio review, standardized assessments, and credit by exam, thus saving time and expense while incentivizing individuals with documented non-college learning to consider higher education that can lead to new career options.

MAP stands for “mapping articulated pathways,” which describes the core process facilitated by the MAP platform designed to make CPL easily accessible and readily available at all 116 California community colleges and beyond. Mapping refers to the process of equating prior learning to college courses. Articulated refers to the analysis and approval process of local discipline faculty validating the prior learning as equivalent to a local college course. Pathways refers to the clear listing of courses needed for degree and certificate completion, with each course on the pathway denoting all articulated CPL options. MAP is intended to improve the confusing and subjective CPL petition process, which currently places the onus on prospective students, and give colleges the means to present up-front CPL offers to current and prospective students.

Currently, 76 of the 116 California community colleges participate in the MAP Cohort, a collection of institutions committed to awarding up to a full year of college credit in recognition of the mastery acquired through prior learning, training, and experience (Map Initiative, n.d.). With the support and guidance of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO), the goal is to scale efforts to serve all 116 colleges and all 23 California State University campuses and ensure that students have equal access to appropriate CPL no matter where they start in the system.

ASCCC Leadership and CPL

In 2011, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges passed Resolution 18.04, [1] which supported colleges to offer credit in recognition of prior learning. From this and other resolutions and legislation, faculty have led the effort to establish the CPL requirements and guidelines contained in California Education Code and Title 5 regulations. Historically, colleges recognized prior learning by granting credit for standardized exams—AP, IB, and CLEP—and credit by exam, which primarily focused on high school students. More recently, efforts and regulations are being extended to working adults, veterans, and all those with documented learning, including registered apprentices, licensed professionals, those with work experience, noncredit and adult education students, and others.

Title 5 §55050 requires colleges to offer students an opportunity to receive CPL for validated college-level skills and knowledge gained outside of a college classroom. Students’ knowledge and skills might be gained through experiences in a variety of modalities, and CPL is awarded through industry certification or license, credit by examination, portfolio review, standardized assessment, military training, and  work experience.

Vision 2030 and CPL

The MAP Initiative supports the CCCCO’s Vision 2030, which states, “Vision 2030 incorporates a shift in our approach to proactively bring college to our prospective students, wherever they are and not to wait for them to come to us …[by] offering credit for prior learning to veterans and working adults” (CCCCO, 2023). Chancellor Sonya Christian’s vision for success includes identifying transcribable and transferable CPL so students can increase degree and certificate attainment. Part of this vision is to implement greater CPL collaboration between community colleges, the California State University, and the University of California, saving students up to one year of study and expediting career readiness.

Closing Equity and Achievement Gaps

According to Klein-Collins, (2020), adult learners who receive CPL complete a program of study at almost twice the rate—49% vs 27%—of those who receive no CPL. When CPL is isolated from other factors, the increase in completion is 17%. This significant CPL boost also has a direct equity impact for students who are Hispanic (24%), Black (14%), enrolled in community college (25%), or Pell recipients (19%).

California has 6.8 million working adults who do not have a college degree or certificate. However, many have training or experience equivalent to college coursework. The potential for CPL to increase equitable access may be the state’s strongest untapped equity lever available. Adult recipients of CPL enjoy decreased time to completion, decreased debt accumulation, and increased success, retention, and completion rates (Klein-Collins,, 2020).  

California Workforce Needs and CPL

California Competes (2021) conducted research that determined a 2.4 million degree gap exists to meet workforce needs, along with a 10% increased need every year until 2031. Sixty-nine percent of working adults believe a degree or certificate would provide an advantage or a very strong advantage to one entering or re-entering the workforce, and 84% believe CPL opportunities would strongly influence their choice of college or university (Strada Education Network, 2020). A Strada recontact survey (Torpey-Saboe & Clayton, 2022) found that 54% of adults stated that CPL was the factor that increased their probability of post-secondary college or university enrollment. However, a survey conducted by Klein-Collins and Framularo (2022) noted that fewer than 11% receive CPL for their life or work experiences.  

Student CPL Story

Marine Corps veteran Santiago Vega Jr. and his family demonstrate the opportunity CPL presents to colleges, working adults, and veterans. Santiago qualified for seventeen units of CPL based on his military training and went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology at CSU Fullerton. When his father—also a Marine Corps veteran with the same military occupation—learned about Santiago’s credit, he also qualified for seventeen units of CPL. The father then stepped away from his successful lighting business to enroll at Norco College and is completing a degree in social and behavioral sciences. Santiago’s mother, Josie, was inspired by her husband and son and is now pursuing her own degree in sociology. This story is one of many that are now arising from CPL and the work of the MAP Initiative.

 Estimated Economic Impact of CPL

According to the MAP Initiative (n.d.), fifteen units of credit preserves over $34,000 in educational benefits. An exploratory model was recently developed to identify the potential economic returns of CPL. Preliminary findings indicate a total per-person savings and economic impact of $67,609 for California working adults who receive fifteen units of CPL and complete an associate degree (Lee, 2024). When CPL is awarded to California veterans and service members, the potential economic return is $121,554.

Based on estimates, if California’s community colleges were able to offer an average of fifteen units of CPL on 2+2 pathways and attract 100,000 working adults—just 862 per college—to enroll and earn an associate degree, the savings and economic impact to the state would potentially be $6.8 billion (Lee, 2024). Not only would this accomplishment meet workforce needs and foster economic mobility, but it would also lead to greater collaboration with industry partners and an equitable increase in system enrollment, completion, and transfer in key populations such as career technical education, apprenticeships, high school dual enrollment, noncredit, adult education, and community college baccalaureate programs.

The MAP Initiative leadership team is collaborating with the CCCCO, the ASCCC, and the CSU to align policies and procedures to ensure that CPL transfers seamlessly and is accepted when transcribed. Current CSU CPL policy clarifies the recognition and acceptance of CPL awarded by the campuses. In 2023, the CSU Chancellor’s Office required that all CSU campuses adopt and publish their local CPL policy and procedure (California State University, 2023). As colleges move forward, they need to identify CPL opportunities for all programs and share articulation with each other, partnering with other regional CPL efforts designed to maximize credit.

What’s Next?

At the 2023 CPL Summit, Chancellor Christian issued a call to action, asking all California community colleges to develop the capacity and procedures to expand and offer CPL (CCCCO Call to Action, 2023).  The three-part strategy of the California MAP Initiative is to support all colleges in the state by offering CPL best practices and professional development, advocating policy reform, and providing a technology platform. With the support of the Board of Governors and the CCCCO, the initiative will be able to assist all colleges as they evaluate courses for CPL credit and make articulation decisions maximizing credit statewide. CPL will offer working adults and students credit and program choices and will create an unbroken and optimized pathway from college to career or career advancement.


California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. (2023). Introduction from the Chancellor.

California Competes. (2021, May 6). Get Ready: Introducing the Millions of Adults Planning to Enroll in College.

California State University. (2023). Credit for Prior Learning Policy.

CCCCO Call to Action. (2023). Uploaded by California Map Initiative. YouTube.

Klein-Collins, R., & Framularo, C. (2022). Attracting adult learners with credit for prior learning. CAEL.

Klein-Collins, R., Taylor, J., Bishop, C., Bransberger, P., Lane, P., & Leibrandt, S. (2020). The PLA Boost. CAEL/WICHE.

Lee, S. (2024). Economic impact estimates of credit for prior learning on working adults and military service members: A preliminary study. MAP Initiative.

Map Initiative. (n.d.). California Map Initiative.

Strada Education Network. (2020, September 16). Interested but not Enrolled: Understanding and Serving Aspiring Adult Learners.

Torpey-Saboe, N., & Clayton, D. (2022, June 15). Education Expectations: Views on the Value of College and Liklihood to Enroll. Strada Education Foundation.

1.  ASCCC Adopted Resolutions