Section 400: Academic Affairs

Effective: February 12, 2001
Reviewed: October 2021
Review Date: October 2023
Responsible Party: Registrar



Students must meet the following requirements to be eligible for all aspects of prior learning assessment (PLA):

  • Currently admitted to Montana State University-Northern (MSUN)
  • Admitted to an undergraduate degree or certificate program
  • In good academic standing

Students seeking PLA via national exams, challenge exams, or portfolio assessment:

  • Currently enrolled at MSUN

In accordance with Board of Regents Policy 301.19 students must be fully enrolled in order to start the PLA process.

PLA at MSUN is appropriate only for college level learning and available only for undergraduate courses. PLA is not available for courses for which the student has already enrolled (after the last drop date).

Number of Credits

A student may earn up to 25% of the credits required for their degree through PLA. For a typical 120-credit baccalaureate program, up to 30 credits may be earned by PLA (non-instructional).

Note: Students are cautioned that some PLA assessment methods result in Pass/Fail (P/F) grades. At MSUN there are additional limits on the number of P/F-graded courses that can be applied to major requirements and degrees. See the MSUN catalog for more information.

Credits earned via PLA are not considered part of the residency requirements. For baccalaureate programs, at least 30 credits must be earned at MSUN and applied to the degree program. For associate programs, at least 15 credits must be earned at MSUN and applied to the degree program.

Assessment Methods

Prior learning assessment is based upon demonstrated college-level learning applicable to existing MSUN courses and stated course learning outcomes. The following methods of assessing prior knowledge are available at MSUN:

a) National Exams – Credit may be earned through certain national examination programs such as:

• DSST (formerly known as DANTES)
• UExcel – not accepted at MSUN at this time
• College Level Examination Program (CLEP)
• Advanced Placement (AP)
• International Baccalaureate (IB)

More information on these programs is available in the MSUN catalog.

b) Credit recommendations – Recommendations may be provided by the American Council on Education (ACE) and the National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS) for some military and corporate training:

• ACE Military Guide
• ACE National Guide to College Credit for Workforce Training

Note: ACE and NCCRS recommendations may include many credits which will not apply to a student's degree program. Only recommendations directly applicable to the student's degree will be accepted. If the student chooses a different degree, the assessment of the ACE and NCCRS recommendations will be updated. Once credits have been applied to a transcript they will not be removed. PLA credits in excess of degree requirements may limit the student's eligibility for financial aid.

c) Challenge Exams – Exams are developed by faculty at MSUN to allow students to demonstrate knowledge relevant to the stated learning outcomes of specific courses. Departments may not allow challenge exams for some courses. Challenge exams are not available for courses which can be tested via CLEP. Proficiency exams (e.g., music, language, welding) are considered a type of challenge exam. Additional information on challenge exams is available in the MSUN catalog.

d) Portfolio Assessment – Students may submit a portfolio demonstrating achievement of a course's learning outcomes. These portfolios are assessed by MSUN faculty according to established guidelines and principles. Portfolio assessment is typically not available if CLEP or Challenge exams are available for the course. Portfolio assessment is at the discretion of the department.

Note: There are strict procedures for portfolio development and submission. More information on the process and requirements for PLA portfolio assessment.

Credits Awarded

Credits earned via PLA are posted on transcripts when the credit is awarded. PLA credits earned via national exams, challenge exams, or portfolio assessment will not be posted on the student's transcript until the student has completed one semester at MSUN (on-site or on-line). Credits earned through PLA are applied to degree program requirements or certificate requirements in the same manner as all other credits earned at MSUN. They will be designated on the student's transcript by the appropriate course title, course number, and number of credits awarded as aligned with the course for which the credit was awarded and identified as earned via PLA on transcripts in accordance with accreditation standards. When a letter grade is associated with awarded PLA credits, the grade will be included in the calculation of the student's GPA on the same basis as all other MSUN credits.


Credits earned at MSUN via PLA may transfer to other institutions in the Montana University System (MUS) according to Board of Regents Policy 301.19 and are subject to limitations imposed by the receiving institution.

Credits earned at other MUS institutions via PLA are eligible for transfer to MSUN subject to institutional policies and procedures for the evaluation of transfer credit.


Fees are based on the type of assessment and the number of credits to be reviewed, not the credits awarded. MSUN makes no assurances to students regarding the number of credits to be awarded prior to the completion of the assessment process. All fees are published on the Business Services website.

Review and Grievance

A student who disagrees with the result of a prior learning assessment performed at MSUN may ask to have the assessment reviewed. A student who believes that an error has been made in the process of an assessment may file a grievance. Procedures for review and grievance are published in the Student Handbook under Student Grade Appeal Process.

Faculty Assessors Professional Development
The institution will provide training on PLA principles and best practices for faculty involved in assessment of prior learning.