Don’t discredit APs

Colleges should continue to award AP credit to students

The College of William & Mary recently announced changes to its curriculum, which would preclude students from using AP credit to fulfill the required general education courses. The goal is to make such courses more interdisciplinary and intellectual, rather than focused on a specific body of knowledge. The argument is that AP courses do not provide that intellectual experience, and are therefore insufficient to replace the new general education requirements of the college.

Though it is true that some AP courses may not include coursework that is challenging enough to merit college credit, that does not mean that all AP courses should be discounted for the style of learning that they offer. Many AP courses do give students the same strong foundation as college general education classes, and earning AP credit gives students more freedom in constructing their educational experiences.

An AP course may not be focused on drawing connections among different disciplines. But to say this is a fault that disqualifies AP courses from fulfilling general education requirements makes a certain assumption about the purpose of general education courses. Should that purpose really be an interdisciplinary focus?

Many students at the University choose interdisciplinary majors, but interdisciplinary study is not necessarily for everyone. In combining multiple disciplines in the same number of credits as a traditional major, there will inevitably be some information about one discipline that is omitted. Some students may feel that this sacrifice is worth it in order to combine many subject areas together. But not all students may want this kind of education.

General education requirements are meant to give students a foundation of knowledge off of which they can base the rest of their course selections during their college years. The University allows some AP courses to cover area requirements, because a class such as AP Biology or AP US History gives a student a good basis of knowledge to decide whether or not to pursue them in any capacity — interdisciplinary or not.

Some may argue that AP scores do not merit college credit because such courses do not live up to the standards of the institution. But the concern that some AP classes may not challenge students at a level equivalent to the rigor of college should not lead to the decision to scrap AP credits altogether. Rather, the College Board, who administers the AP tests, should work to bridge any gaps that may exist between the standards of universities and the AP coursework done in high schools.

AP courses teach students how to be good test takers, which, like it or not, is an essential skill to succeed in college. They also teach students how to supplement class lectures or discussions with their own learning time by working with a reading load that cannot possibly be covered completely by the teacher in the class period. If the College Board works to see that these standards are met by all AP courses and teachers, then their curricula and rigor will remain in line with the standards of colleges, preparing students to succeed in higher education.

Some schools, like Dartmouth College, now offer no credit for any AP courses, because “we would like a Dartmouth education to take place at Dartmouth,” said a spokesperson, quoted in the Chronicle. But this puts low-income students at a disadvantage. Earning AP credits while attending a public high school gives students who may not be able to afford four years of college the chance to graduate early. Such an opportunity is too valuable to take away, especially when the cost of higher education is rising, and many schools are also cutting back on grant financial aid.

The system of AP coursework and credit is not broken. Such classes can still give students the necessary foundation to succeed in college if there is more communication between higher education institutions and high schools, with College Board serving as an ambassador and a regulator between the two. It is important to maintain this opportunity for students to get a jumpstart on their college careers. Such an opportunity broadens access to higher education, and allows students the chance to meet a challenge and be rewarded for their efforts.

Published February 17, 2014 in Opinion

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