MTSU Prior Learning Assessment ‘a game-changer’ fo...

MTSU Prior Learning Assessment ‘a game-changer’ for state employee eyeing degree

When it comes to selecting a college, many factors must be considered, even more so when you’re a working adult ready to finish a degree that’s been in the works for 20 years.

Leah Louallen, director of grants and scholarships for the Tennessee Students Assistance Corporation, had all of the information necessary to make the decision, but it was an email from her advisor at Middle Tennessee State University that sold her on the program.

“For an advisor to email me back, and to get that level of response, convinced me that I was in the right place,” said Louallen, who administers grant and scholarship aid for the state of Tennessee.

Leah Louallen, University College student, adult learner

Leah Louallen

The 42-year-old said even though she’s worked in higher education for most of her adult life, she considers herself the “most uneducated person in the room.” However, taking the Prior Learning Assessment course at MTSU showed her how much she has learned through her work and the impact she has made in her field.

She now plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree in professional studies with a concentration in organization leadership. That’s one of several flexible degrees designed specifically for working adults who fit college classes into their already busy schedule.

Prior Learning Assessment through University College allows working adults to earn college credit for learning acquired from work and training. In the PLA course, students create a detailed portfolio of their professional competencies, training and certifications, and other experiential learning. Students can potentially earn up to two years of college credit from their prior learning.

“We have all this experience, and that experience is not going to waste. PLA is a game-changer,” said Louallen, a Pegram resident. “Other colleges do PLA, but MTSU’s was just structured so much better than the other schools I came across.”

“It is easy for me to sit in a meeting and see who has their Ph.D.’s and master’s degrees and see myself as the most uneducated. I know that, but they don’t know that,” she said. “But going through the PLA course, I had a chance to go back and remember things I have not thought about in years. I would not be where I am today had I not made an impact.”

The email from her advisor was a major factor in making Louallen feel like she made the right decision, but the communication didn’t stop there. With the PLA course, the instructors make it their goal to communicate directly with the students throughout the entire course. Louallen said the instructors were all about student success, not just getting them through the course.

“I feel like MTSU is moving in a very student-serving focus and that is important to me,” she said. “They were not just giving me assignments. They had examples to look at and samples to review. They sent reminders and were always incredibly helpful.”

Louallen has previously taken classes at Vol State, Western Kentucky, and Nashville State. She’s excited to continue her journey here at MTSU and thankful that her PLA credit will help her finish faster.

“There are colleges doing it right and some doing it wrong, and MTSU has something different,” she said. “I have every intention of putting together a presentation and traveling the state once I finish this. Being a student has been extremely eye-opening for me.”

If you’re interested in learning how many credits you can earn, contact MTSU’s University College at 615-494-7714 or fill out the form at

— Hunter Patterson (