Both ACE and NCCRS credit recommendations have the same intended purpose: to help you receive college credit from non-collegiate courses or prior work experience. Aside from some nuanced differences between the two organizations and their process, their credit recommendations both function in essentially the same manner.

The main substantive difference you should consider is whether the college you intend on enrolling is willing to accept the credit recommendations from ACE, NCCRS, or both, towards your degree.

Let’s quickly dive into the details to help you best utilize these…it’s an amazing opportunity for people looking to lower the cost of their education and perhaps finish more quickly.

What’s the purpose of the NCCRS and ACE?

All students are individuals with unique needs and goals. Many of today’s students, particularly adult learners, have turned to online learning platforms that allow them to earn their degree outside of the traditional classroom. For many, online learning makes far more sense when you consider the flexibility and affordability these programs offer. But there was a time when these credits earned would not be able to count toward their full degree should they decide to eventually apply to a brick-and-mortar school.

Both organizations (American Council on Education, and National College Credit Recommendation Service) believe students should have the opportunity to receive college credit for certain applicable learning outside of the university classroom. The belief is that it’s absolutely possible to learn the equivalent of what one might learn in a college course. This could either take place from prior work experience and/or certain non-collegiate courses. As a whole, this is often referred to as “Prior Learning Assessment” or PLA.

Their goals are to provide the structure to to translate that experience into credits when you enroll at your college, and help you potentially be that much closer to finishing your degree.

For example, let’s say you’ve have taken a challenging course on Algebra from a learning company called ABC Learning that isn’t a university (and doesn’t charge university prices). And, it essentially entails everything one would normally learn in their first semester Algebra course in college.

Assuming you’ve passed the course, here’s where NCCRS and ACE come in. They fill two very important roles to help you get credit for that course.

Here’s the 1st Important Role:

Evaluating Courses

Both organizations perform rigorous academic review processes to ensure that the ABC Learning organization and course meet the same academic standards as a college course equivalent. This course evaluation process is conducted by university professors and higher education professionals with relevant subject matter expertise. It’s a multi-faceted evaluation process that takes many important items into consideration. Only after a successful review and evaluation of the particular course, will the NCCRS or ACE determine that the course is worthy of receiving their “Recommendation for College Credit”.

Recommended Schools

What is a Credit Recommendation?

A Credit Recommendation is guidance to a university on how to accept this prior learning for credits toward one’s degree. In other words, if a student arrived from ABC Learning with that Algebra course, it explains how the college should use these to apply to the student’s degree. These recommendations are usually comprised of the the following:

  1. The amount of college credits these organizations recommend the course should satisfy at a college or university (e.g. 3 semester units)
  2. A summary of the learning outcomes the student should have once completing the course
  3. Indications on what types of courses this should satisfy at the university (e.g. Undegraduate vs Graduate, upper division vs lower division, History vs Alegbra, etc.)

It’s essentially useful guidance for the university to provide you the best possible credit for what you’ve taken.

Ok, here’s the 2nd Important Role for these organizations:

Working With Universities to Accept the Recommendation Standard

The next important role that these organizations fill is to help gain acceptance by universities across the country. What good would a credit recommendation be if no university followed it? Luckily, both NCCRS and ACE are well-known resources by universities and accreditors alike, with excellent reputations. They’re seen as the authorities on evaluating non-collegiate learning, and are well trusted by many colleges across the country. In fact, over 1,400 for NCCRS and 1,800 for ACE! Those are very large networks, and help provide students with confidence that a Credit Recommended program from either organization will be highly considered at schools across the country.

Btw, it’s a huge benefit for the universities as well, since they don’t have to take the time to review every non-collegiate course or prior work experience. They’re instead able to rely on the NCCRS/ACE standards and utilize those for decision-making.

Recommended Schools

What Can I Get Credit For?

Prior learning assessment can be fairly broad and usually covers work experience or courses you’ve taken with organizations outside of college. It’s all about finding the right organizations that offer ACE/NCCRS recommended options for you to utilize toward your degree (and preferably for free).

Are There Any Drawbacks or Limitations?

Yes, the main issue is that it’s recommended for credit and not guaranteed for credit. Meaning, the universities who’ve agreed to participate with either organization can’t guarantee it’s acceptance. They’re willing to consider it though, and by the nature of their participation, genuinely have a positive intent to do so. That’s the good news. But, it’s still worth the caveat.

Is There A Better Way? What’s My First Step?

One way is to make sure the courses have taken the recommendations one step further to help you receive credit.

For example, I founded with a mission to make college more affordable and accessible for everyone. Anyone can register and take our college-level courses, for free. Yep, free.

Here’s the key difference though:

In addition to the NCCRS credit recommendations our courses have received (meaning 1400 universities and colleges will consider them) we’ve taken the added step of organizing direct partner articulations with universities across the country to ensure our students have the best opportunity to receive credit (woohoo!)

It’s a lot of work, but we work directly with individual universities to pre-organize the course mapping (along with a formal agreement of accepting our courses) so students have more certainty of the course acceptance. You can see all of the great schools we’ve organized this process with here. The list is growing constantly as we continue to work with more universities. Oh, and we also organize tuition discounts on our student’s behalf so you could save even more money.

Again, we do all of this for free. As part of our mission to help people access the education they need, one can register and take as many of our college-level courses as they’d like.

Hopefully that helped understand the difference between the two recommendations, and why these organizations serve an amazing role. You should now have what you need to start toward your degree.

To your success!



About the Author
Grant founded with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.