Paying for the AP Exams, Who Should Carry the Burden?

At approximately $86.00 per exam (fees vary by state, district and school),  the AP exams are not cheap and with some students taking several exams the bill for the exams quickly adds up.  States and school’s handle these fees in various ways, with most requiring the student to pay a large portion if not all of this exam fee.  I was reminded of this, as Total Registration, LLC is in the middle of helping ~200 schools register students for the AP exams.  I also just read an article at, San Diego Unified spends $800,000 annually to satisfy an Advanced Placement equity issue,  questioning San Diego Unified School District’s policy to pay for all of their student’s AP exams.  People are questioning the logic in spending approx $800,000 to pay for exams that directly benefit individuals, especially during a time when California’s economy is in dire straits and all services are being back, including schools.

I guess the main question is: Who should carry the burden of  the Advanced Placement exam fees?

Schools encourage students to pursue these challenging courses and take the year end exam.  Students’ AP participation is a feather in their cap, something that brings the school great recognition.  With Newsweek and US News and Reports using AP participation in their calculation of the Nation’s “Best High Schools”, schools covet their students’ participation.  Some schools even go so far as to require all students enrolled in AP courses to sit for the national exam in May.  Policies such as this often lead to the necessity of the district or school covering the cost of the exams.

Different Fee Structures

During my three years of helping schools simplify the AP exam reigstration process I have come across a myriad of systems to cover the cost of the exams.  Here are some of the various fee structures:

  • The student pays the entire $86.00/exam
  • The student pays more than the $86.00/exam helping to cover some the school’s costs of proctoring the exams
  • In Minnesota, the state pays for $56.00, leaving $30.00 for the students to pay
  • In Georgia,  the state covers the first exam and  the other exams cost the full $86.00
  • In Texas, the state covers $30.00 of each exam
  • In Indiana, the state covers the cost of all math and science exams
  • In Oklahoma, the state covers $25.00 an exam if the student takes two or more
  • In Florida, the state covers the entire exam fee
  • In some schools, AVID students’ exam fees are covered.
  • And many more

Then there is the variation in how much students who participate in the Federal Free or Reduced Lunch Program pay.  This varies from the College Board’s standard reduction of $30.00 (the College Board reduces their fee $22.00 and the school does not receive their $8.00 of the exam fee) to the state/district/school covering the entire exam fee.  Add to this, that many schools have scholarship programs for students with financial needs and the fee structure for the AP exams is anything but standardized.

So, who should pay?

Obviously there is a wide range of opinions,  but my view is that the students/parents should carry the bulk of cost of the AP exams, with students having financial hardship being able to receive a reduction.  Here’s my reasoning for this:

  • Doing well on an exam greatly benefits the student and parent.  Receiving college credit for a good exam score can save the family thousands in tuition for each AP exam.  This makes $86.00.exam a great value.
  • Student’s who pay a portion of the exam fee are more invested in the outcome and therefore work harder at doing well on the exam.  Florida, who covers the cost of the exam fee, has one of the worst pass rates.
  • Money used to pay for exam fees could be better used on improving instruction and curriculum, increasing students abilities and knowledge.  If students knew they were receiving great instruction and would do well on the exam, they would have no problem paying for the exams.  It is a simple risk vs reward issue.

Clearly there is no consensus on who should cover the costs of the AP exams.  I have a feeling that the poor economy facing most states is going to bring the various policies into the spotlight.  States and districts are tightening there belts and reducing the exam subsidy will be one of the first places they look.  The schools that require students to take the exams and students have not needed to pay have had an easy time managing the registration process and ordering exams as they just order exams for every student in a course.  Schools who have allow students to choose whether they take the exam or not  and/or need to collect fees from students have a much more difficult job of managing all the data necessary to place an accurate exam order with the college with the College Board. Errors in these orders quickly turn into financial penalties for the school.  Schools who need to collect fees and keep track of who is taking the exam and who is not have found Total Registration’s AP Exam Registration Service to be a great time saver.

2 Responses to “Paying for the AP Exams, Who Should Carry the Burden?”

  1. Ariauna says:

    Some students take the AP class for the free exam at the end of the course to alleviate the cost of college, like you mentioned. What are they supposed to do if their school requires that the students pay for the exams?

    How is that fair to the education of students who can’t afford the exam, let alone college?

  2. Mike says:

    Ariauna – This is a great point. Many schools offer financial assistance to students who can not pay the exam fees. The College Board and schools reduced the exam fee by $30.00 for students who participate in the federal Free or Reduced Lunch Program. Many of the schools that Total Registration works with will further reduce the exam fees. We have many schools using TR’s service that reduce the fee to $8.00 and will discount the exam for other students in need that do not participatate in the Free or Reduced Lucn program. These fee waivers difficult for schools that have large populations of students in need as they have to come up with all of the money.

    Do you have any ideas for solutions to this problem?