Side by Side: Comparing Credit for Prior Learning and Competency-Based Education


Californians need flexible and affordable pathways to degrees, credentials, and career opportunities as they work to rebuild the world’s fifth-largest economy during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s college student is changing as more Californians pursue their education while balancing work and family responsibilities. Still, our current college model is built for the traditional student who is increasingly in the minority. Higher education should be more responsive to the needs of today’s students. Credit for prior learning (CPL) and competency-based education (CBE) are two approaches that can significantly boost degree attainment while closing equity gaps. While each approach offers an alternative to traditional seat-time based classroom instruction, they are not interchangeable.

This publication compares the two models and underscores how they differ from each other and how they both differ from traditional seat-time based instruction.

key findings
  1. CPL grants credit for college-level learning gained outside of the accredited college classroom, such as an employer certification or a military training course.
  2. CPL is for people who learned skills before attending college, such as veterans and tradespeople.
  3. CBE grants credit for students who demonstrate their knowledge and skills by engaging in learning exercises, such as by completing coursework outside a traditional classroom schedule.
  4. CBE is for people who need to go through courses at their own pace, such as shift workers and parents.
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