Tufts University AP Credit Policy Reduces Students’ Credits

There was an article in the Tufts Daily on Sept 18th  that discusses Tufts University’s decision to put a cap on the number of credits a student can earn from AP scores.  This does not bode well for incoming students who thought they would have many prerequisites under their belt due to good AP scores.

Despite some student opposition, the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) voted in April to overhaul the school’s handling of AP credits. The EPC capped the number of pre-matriculation credits that Arts and Sciences students can put toward their degrees at five; for School of Engineering students, the number was  limited to eight. Before the EPC vote, there had been no limit on the number of AP credits on which students could draw.

Policy changes like this could put a major crimp in the Advanced Placement Program.  Obviously, one of the most attractive features of an AP course/exam is the student’s ability to earn “college credit” for their high school class if they score well on their exam.  This can translate into a significant tuition savings.

I don’t really buy all the arguments in the article as to why Tufts changed the policy.  For example:

In making the change, the EPC argued that AP courses do not always meet the standards of rigidity set by supposedly comparable Tufts courses. As a result, students whoTufts University - Ballou Hall received credit for introductory-level courses and skipped to higher-level classes were often ill-prepared for the jump, according to EPC Chair Jack Ridge.

While some exams such as AP Calculus are generally seen as matching the rigor of college-level material, other tests such as those in U.S. history and Biology are often harder to equate to a Tufts class, Ridge said.

If the above is the issue, the score needed to achieve credits should be raised for courses such as U.S. History and biology that are hard “to equate to a Tufts class”.  If a score of 5 is not sufficient than perhaps Tufts should not give credit for US History but leave other classes like Calculus alone.  The policy  they came up with d0es not seem to address the problem quoted above as it sounds like students could still receive credit for U.S. History.  It seems the policy established is really about giving students less AP credits, making them take more courses at Tufts.  This, of course, translates into more tuition or students staying in school longer padding the bottom line.  Perhaps Tufts is trying to lower the quality of their applicant pool.  Why would high achieving students who take a large number of Advanced Placement courses and score well on many exams  choose to apply to Tufts when other colleges allow them take advantage of their “credits”?

If other colleges follow suit with similar policies, there will be a great change in how students view Advanced Placement courses and exams.  I sincerely hope that this is not a financial decision based solely on a college’s need to receive more tuition.

Most States Increase the Number of Advanced Placement Exams

The College Board recently released data for the 2009 Advanced Placement exams.  All the states in the US, except 3,  had an increase in the number of AP exams from 2008 to 2009.

% Change in the Number of AP Exams by state from 2008 to 2009

 As shown in the chart above, the states with the highest increase in the percent of exams administered were: Alabama (25%), Indiana (16%), Kentucky (15%) and Nevada (15%).  The three with declines were the District of Columbia (-9%), North Dakota (-8%) and Mississippi (-1%)

The states that gave the most exams were California (479,180), Texas (287,756) and Florida (260,162). Obviously states with larger populations gave more exams.

The % change in exams from 2008 to 2009 is very interesting, but can be difficult to compare from state to state.  States have different ways they handle the  fees for the exams.  In some states the exam fees (approximately  $86.00) are covered for students by either the state, district, school or a grant. 

  • Florida covers the entire exam fee
  • Texas covers $30.00 of the fee
  • Minnesota covers more than half 
  • Georgia pays for the first exam and students pay for the others

For more details about the varying way states handle fees visit this College Board web page.  

Programs like this definitely encourage more students to attempt the AP exams compared to other states where the students and their families pay the entire exam fee.  This does not mean that students average higher scores, and in fact, many would argue that the average exam grade will be lower.  When students are required to pay for the exam they will most likely not take it unless they feel they can perform well.  When someone else pays, this may not be a concern.  On the flip-side, others would argue that there is great merit in students attempt the AP exams.

It will be interesting to see how these programs that pay the exam fee or part of the exam fee will fair as the economy continues to struggle.  I can’t imagine that all the states will continue to pay for the exam fees at the level they have in the past.  I imagine the number of exams may decrease as dome these exam fee subsidies change.  At a minimum, I would think the rate of growth in the exams would slow for states that decrease these subsidies they have made in the past.

2009 – Another Record Year for AP Exams

The College Board just posted its AP Report for the 2009.  Once again there was remarked growth in the Advanced Placement  program nationwide as 7% more students took 7% more AP exams than they did in 2008.  In 2009 there were 2,929,929 exams administered compared to 2.736,445 exams in 2008.

The growth of the AP program since 1999

The growth of the AP program since 1999


The greatest increases were Japanese Lang & Culture ( 36%), Human Geography (27%), and Environmental Science (20%).  There were only two AP exam that had a reduction in the number of exams from 2008 and those were Latin Vergil (-11%) and German Language (-5%).

Percent Change in Number of Exams from 2008 to 2009 by Exam

Percent Change in Number of Exams from 2008 to 2009 by Exam

The data shows that all across the country schools are increasing the size of their AP programs.  This is due to several factors:

  • Schools use the Advanced Placement Program to attract “open enrollment” students.  This means the more courses and the larger the program, the more attractive the school.
  • Some schools give weighted GPA points to AP courses, thus students take as many as they can to increase their GPA and class rank.
  • Students know that colleges, especially elite colleges, like to see that students have taken the challenging route through high school.
  • Students understand the tuition savings from receiving multiple “credits” before entering college.
  • Students are looking for increased challenges.

Paying Students for Passing AP Exams

There was a recent article in the NY Times about a program in NY City that pays students at some schools if they receive great AP scores.   The program is titled REACH (Rewarding Achievement) and involves schools with large minority populations.  The goal of the program is to increase college readiness for low income high school students.  REACH gives students financial rewards of $300-$1000 depending on their score on the AP exam and whether or not they attend free AP workshops.

REACH and similar programs that use financial incentives to get students to attempt AP courses and AP exams have caused quite a controversy.  There are many who think that learning should be internally motivated and not extrinsically rewarded.  I personally do not see a problem with the financial rewards.  Many parents have been using financial rewards to encourage their students for years.  Personally, I remember my parents giving me rewards for A’s on my report cards in junior high school.  These were much smaller than the rewards REACH are offering but the concept is the same.

The key here is that these students are not typically  receiving the support and encouragement at home to attempt these challenging courses.  These external rewards might just be the kick in the pants needed to get some students to take on the added challenge of the AP exams.  One thing that I  like about this program is that students must perform on the exam, and not just warm a seat in an AP class.  They can also increase their reward by attending tutor sessions designed to increase student achievement.  All these aspects seem to be well thought out.

The trick will be for the schools involved in REACH to keep their standards and expectations high while the number of students increases.  Perhaps, schools will learn that the best way to prepare these students for the AP courses will be to increase the standards in the classes prior to the AP course.  If this happens, all students will benefit, even those who do not go on to take on an AP class.

For those who have problems with these financial incentives, I ask why students strive so hard to get into Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Duke, etc.  I believe it is because students perceive that they will be able to get higher paying jobs upon graduation.  This sounds to me like a financial incentive, albeit delayed in nature.

Let’s hear your opinions by commenting below.

Advanced Placement Exams as the new indicator for college success?

This past week there were two articles that indicated that colleges are looking at AP exams as a better indicator, than SAT exams, of a students ability to succeed in college .  One article was in the New York Times and the other in the Washington Post.

In some ways  this makes sense.  The AP exams are tied to a particular curriculum and are therefore something that students can prepare for with hard work.  In my opinion, hard work determines some one’s success to a greater degree than intelligence.  Of course intelligence helps, but a smart, lazy person does not usually accomplish much.  Students in the AP course have an opportunity to be taught the material that will be assessed on the exam.  The SAT or ACT is quite different, in that it is not based on a certain curriculum and is probably affected more by an individuals intelligence or test taking ability.  The SAT and ACT tend to be hard for some students who read too much into a question and second guess themselves.  For these reasons, I would think that the AP exams would be a better indicator of a student’s success and therefore more important in a college’s admissions decision.

There are a couple of  problems with trying to base admissions of of AP exam scores is.  The first is that AP exams/course are not a level playing field.  Some schools do  not offer any AP courses or minimal courses while other schools offer over 30 different AP courses.  Students in rural schools are at a distinct disadvantage when compared to their metropolitan or suburban peers.  Another problem with using the AP scores is that many students take these AP courses their senior year, and with exams occurring in May and scores being distributed until July, it is too late for colleges to use them.  Most colleges have made their admissions decisions by July and have already held orientation for some of their incoming freshmen.

Perhaps the SAT IIs will be the best criteria as they are more subject oriented and less abstract and scores are reported earlier in the year.  Many colleges are now requiring candidates to have taken some SAT IIs.

I know that I am happy that I not involved with figuring out who to admit to colleges.  It has to be a tough task.