I'm not a PLAR /RPL expert -- but speaking to colleagues who work in this space, one of the major differences between "advanced" PLAR/RPL systems and “pseudo” PLAR/RPL is the ability to recognise experience "outside the traditional classroom" at the graduate profile level rather than individual course credit outcomes. When PLAR/RPL systems attempt to map learning outcomes at the individual course level we risk ending up with the scenario you describe, namely that it would have been cheaper and perhaps easier for these learners to complete the courses themselves. Sadly many institutions use idiosyncratic systems which attempt to map learning experience to individual course outcomes under the banner of RPL. Such systems are not scalable and not good examples of how PLAR/RPL should work.
However, institutions which do have robust PLAR/RPL operations are able to offer a viable and affordable alternative for credentialing life experience. For example, at Capable NZ, Otago Polytechnic's RPL initiative, portfolio based assessment for a full-credential is about 33% of the comparable cost of tuition for a full-time degree. Most RPL policies do incorporate credit transfer protocols for recognising classroom learning as part of the larger PLAR/RPL systems.
We're very fortunate to have a few of the world's leading PLAR scholars and practitioners joining us for the OERu TQF meeting at COL on 4 November 2013 and we will focusing on how the OERu system of course-based learning will interface with our PLAR/RPL systems.