Glossary of Terms


In addition to the terms defined below, HLC's full Glossary is available.

Quality Assurance

HLC assures that a college or universities is maintaining a desired level of quality in higher education, by setting specific expectations and evaluating its member institution’s ability to meet the expectations.  HLC’s expectations are called the Criteria for Accreditation.

Early Admission Paths

Some colleges and universities have early admission paths, allowing students the option of submitting applications much earlier and receiving the admissions decision earlier as well.

Student Debt Obligation

Student debt is money you borrow to pay for college education costs such as tuition, books, and living expenses. The conditions of the loan are your obligations related to repayment.


Grants are funds for students attending college or universities. Most types of grants, unlike loans, are sources of financial aid that generally do not have to be repaid. Grants can come from the federal government, your state government, your college, or a private or nonprofit organization. 


College scholarships are forms of aid that help students pay for their education. Unlike student loans, scholarships do not have to be repaid.

Length of Program

Colleges and universities should identify the number of credits a student must complete to earn a credential, whether it is a degree program, a certificate program, or any other credential.


A credit-bearing program culminating in the awarding of a certificate or diploma, but not a degree. A certificate program may require previous college credit for admission and may be at any degree level or preassociate’s.

Embedded Certifications

Those certificates where the courses required to earn the certificate are embedded into a major or degree program and are only awarded at the completion of a specific degree program.


Proof of the learning outcomes that a learner has achieved following a short learning experience.

Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) or Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)

Evaluation of learning that occurred outside higher education (example, courses taken while in the military). Awarding of college credits, certification or advance standing as a student may be determined.

Competency-based Education

An outcomes-based approach to earning a college degree or other credential. Competencies are statements of what students can do as a result of their learning at an institution of higher education. While competencies can include knowledge or understanding, they primarily emphasize what students can do with their knowledge. Students progress through degree or credential programs by demonstrating competencies specified at the course and/or program level. The curriculum is structured around these specified competencies, and satisfactory academic progress is expressed as the attainment or mastery of the identified competencies. Because competencies are often anchored to external expectations, such as those of employers, to pass a competency students must generally perform at a level considered to be very good or excellent.

Transfer of Credit

College credit earned at one institution of higher education that is later transferred to and accepted by another institution.

Accelerated Path

An accelerated program helps degree-seekers graduate in less time.

Academic Advising

An opportunity to exchange information, designed to help students reach their educational and career goals, by outlining courses that need to be completed.

Career Services

Assisting students with almost any aspect of their career from helping students decide what jobs they will pursue after graduation to building a record of activity for resumes or social media such as LInkedIn.