FAQs About Assessing Prior Learning and Accreditation Standards

Does the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND®) allow programs to assess and grant credit for prior learning?

Yes. ACEND® Accreditation Standards are designed to allow flexibility to programs that seek to provide quality dietetics education using innovative methods. Granting credit for prior learning is one such method. Nontraditional students often bring to the classroom knowledge and experiences that have been acquired in settings other than the traditional academic and supervised practice locations, and they may seek to receive credit for the same. ACEND® encourages programs to explore and develop ways to credit such individuals for the learning that they have acquired in nontraditional settings. For individual students, the required supervised practice hours may include hours credited from the individual's prior experience if the program has established a policy and process for assessing achievement of competencies.

How does assessment of prior learning apply to Didactic Programs in Dietetics?

In accordance with college and university policies, academic programs have always had the prerogative of granting credit for prior learning through assessment of previously taken coursework or experience. Programs are encouraged to individualize didactic and supervised practice experience taking into account prior coursework and experiential learning.

Does ACEND® need to approve the program's process for granting credit for prior learning experience before this can be done?

No. Once the program has established the policy and procedure, it must be communicated to all prospective and enrolled students. When the program is reviewed for accreditation, the program should provide documentation of the process and the results for the ACEND® reviewers to evaluate within the context of the total program and its outcomes. Of course, new programs, which plan to use assessment of prior learning, would describe the process and procedures for implementation and communication to prospective students in the self-study report for candidacy for accreditation submitted to ACEND®.

Does ACEND® put a limit on the number of hours that can be credited towards required didactic courses or supervised practice hours based on the assessment of prior experience?

No, the ACEND® Standards do not limit the number of hours that can be credited. It is up to the program to establish the maximum number of hours for which a student can request credit. If credit is granted for a particular student, then the program can adjust the total number of courses or supervised practice hours that the student will need to complete. The program's policy and process for assessing achievement of the required knowledge, skills, and competencies should clearly describe these procedures.

Can a Didactic Program, Coordinated Program, or Dietetic Internship use this process to grant credit for any or all of the Foundation Knowledge, Skills, and Competencies or 450 supervised practice hours completed in an ACEND®-accredited Dietetic Technician Program?

Yes. Dietitian education programs (CP, DPD, DI) can apply policies for assessing prior learning to the education and experience that DTRs have acquired and grant credit as appropriate. In colleges and universities, formal articulation agreements between two-year and four-year institutions will facilitate this process and should be established whenever possible.

Can a program charge a fee for this assessment and charge tuition for the hours credited?

The program is responsible for all decisions related to tuition and fees. Programs should refer to the sponsoring institution's policies on tuition and fees when making these decisions. ACEND® Accreditation Standards require that tuition and fees conform to commonly accepted practice and be accurately disclosed in information provided to prospective and enrolled students.

How does assessment of prior learning fit into the computer matching process?

Dietetic Internship programs participating in computer matching must decide how and when the prior learning assessment will occur and communicate this to prospective applicants. If the program wishes to conduct the assessment prior to the computer matching application deadline date, it must be done in such a way that the integrity of the computer matching process is not compromised. In other words, applicants may not be "promised" a position or asked to prioritize a program based on the prior learning assessment process.

Has ACEND® published any guidelines for granting credit for prior learning?

Programs are advised to consider the following points when giving credit for prior learning:

  • Measure output competency not the input. (Don't say you give credit for "life experiences" — give credit for the learning that occurs in those experiences.)
  • Assess the competence/knowledge learned, not the number of hours spent in the experience (eg, 15 years of work experience can reflect progressive learning or 14 years repeating one year's experience).
  • Use the Knowledge Requirements, Skills, and Competency statements to evaluate the level of prior learning.
  • Establish and fully disclose a standard policy and process for assessing and granting credit for prior learning, including provision for appeal.
  • Apply the process consistently to all applicants interested in having prior learning considered for credit.
  • Decide whether the policy will be to waive part or all of supervised practice requirements.
  • Seek documentation or evidence that the student has actually acquired the learning claimed and for which credit is being sought.
  • Identify which competencies have been met when granting credit for prior learning.
  • Be sure you are meeting other institutional standards separate from ACEND® requirements, such as granting graduate level academic credit if this applies to the program.
  • Develop a management process to coordinate portfolio-assisted assessment of prior learning in order to ensure overall program quality.

Assessing prior learning is not as simple as looking at a student's work history and assigning college level credit. The challenge lies in taking that work experience, and the learning acquired in a variety of settings, and matching it to the skills and competencies required of qualified RDNs and DTRs serving the public.

Source: ACEND/April 2015