BROWN: APs not equivalent

The University should restrict the amount of credit that students can claim from their AP scores

The Managing Board of this paper wrote an editorial earlier this week supporting the policy of letting students gain credit for AP courses taken in high school. The article makes a lot of persuasive arguments, particularly when it notes that AP credits help make college accessible to lower income students. That is an undeniable benefit of granting AP credit that not only helps low-income students, but the entire University by increasing socio-economic diversity. And I agree that taking some AP classes can be a great way to prepare for college course work, reading and test-taking. However, I disagree with the larger contention that an AP class is comparable to a class offered at a competitive university, and that is why the University’s administration should follow the lead of schools like Dartmouth and limit the amount of credits students can earn through AP courses.

The Managing Board argues that it is up to the College Board, which administers AP exams, to ensure that AP courses are sufficiently rigorous to merit credit. A top-tier school like the University should not be relying on an outside business to determine the quality of work necessary to earn University credits. A degree from the University carries a lot of weight, and alumni gain many opportunities from the name recognition that degree provides. In addition, the University’s reputation in the outside world is determined by the quality of the graduates it produces. The decision about whether to accept any type of transfer credit needs to be taken seriously for these reasons. Hoping an organization without any direct connections to the University will sufficiently regulate thousands of high school classes around the country just isn’t enough.

Dartmouth’s decision not to grant AP credit wasn’t just, as their spokesperson said, because they would like a “Dartmouth education to take place at Dartmouth.” It was because a Dartmouth education is a unique offering; students come to Dartmouth to get that unique education and employers hire Dartmouth alumni because of their unique resumes. The same logic applies to the University — AP credit dilutes the specific qualities of an education earned in Charlottesville. A student could have entered the University with AP credit in politics, but would that have really been a replacement for taking a class with Larry Sabato? The magnitude of the divide between these experiences should speak to the inadequacy of AP courses compared to those offered on Grounds.

This does not mean AP courses aren’t important or useful. As the Managing Board argued, they are good preparation for eventual college coursework and are a useful tool for admissions officers. An AP course will always look good on an application. And just because they shouldn’t be used for credit doesn’t mean the University couldn’t find ways to make them useful to students. Perhaps certain introductory courses could be designed for those who have already taken the AP equivalent, so that students who have already shown promise in a certain field could develop a deeper base of knowledge and explore more niche topics in an introductory setting. That way the University would know that the introductory credits were earned on Grounds but students could still benefit from their success in high school. This would also provide professors with much more flexibility when designing those courses — an opportunity many would probably relish — and could help inspire innovations in the teaching of the normal introductory class.

These changes would still not help those who need the economic boost an early graduation assisted through AP credit can provide, which is why limiting, rather than forbidding, AP credit could be the best decision. Perhaps students could only earn AP credits related to their majors, which would allow them to take more advanced classes as well. Or maybe core requirements could only be halved through AP credit — for example, a student could satisfy three of their six humanities credits with an AP English class — to ensure that the University at least has some contribution to the student’s education in every discipline.

AP exams are a useful tool for the preparation and evaluation of college students, but simply don’t have the merit to be used as a one-to-one substitution for credit at the University. While the economic benefits they grant to low-income students are important enough to preserve some of their applicability for credit, opportunities to do so should be limited to preserve the specific qualities of a University education.

Forrest Brown is an Opinion columnist for the Cavalier Daily. His columns run Thursdays.

Published February 20, 2014 in Opinion

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