The role of AP credits in college is up for debate at some peer institutions.
Dartmouth College recently announced that incoming students will no longer receive college credit for AP exams taken in high school. The new rule, which will take effect beginning in Fall 2014, will not affect current students or this year’s applicant pool. Although students will no longer receive college credit for their AP coursework, Dartmouth will still allow students to place out of certain introductory courses depending on their AP exam scores. The actions have called into question the purpose served by AP exams in the college context.
Justin Anderson, assistant vice president for media relations at Dartmouth, said the purpose of the new policy is not to discredit the AP program, but rather to increase the rigor of a Dartmouth education. The hope is that by eliminating AP-based college credits, students will be encouraged to take more higher level courses during their time at Dartmouth.
“What we’re talking about here is education, not just credentialing,” Anderson said. “We want our students to take advantage of what Dartmouth has to offer, rather than just racking up as many credits as they can from as many different sources as they can in order to get a Dartmouth degree.”
Duke recognizes AP exams for placement out of introductory courses, but also limits the credit given for AP test scores. For the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, students can only receive two AP credits toward the graduation requirement, whereas for the Pratt School of Engineering, AP credit is limitless for math and science courses but capped at two credits for humanities and social sciences courses.
Lee Baker, associate vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of academic affairs for Trinity College, said Duke’s current method of giving AP credit is structured so that students receive class credit from their college experience rather than their high school courses.
“We want an eight semester undergraduate experience,” Baker said. “We want all first-year students to have a shared experience. Our classes are worth the money, and students are connected well to our DukeEngage programs and our study abroad programs.”
Trevor Packer, senior vice president of the Advanced Placement Program at the College Board, said AP policies shift in 1 to 3 percent of colleges each year, with a balance between changes that allow for more credit and changes that allow for less. Universities that grant limited credits state reasons similar to Dartmouth’s.
Packer said that he agrees that credit granting is not the primary objective of the AP program.
“The original intent of the Advanced Placement Program [was] to provide students with the opportunity to place into the college course for which their AP experience best prepared them,” Packer wrote in an email Monday.
Although the AP program works to ensure that it is a good representation of a college level introductory course, the College Board recognizes that colleges vary in their degree of difficulty and what they expect from their students.
“We strongly advocate that colleges review AP courses and exams to evaluate how these experiences align with the outcomes of their introductory courses and to accordingly set credit/placement policies that are appropriate for their institution,” Packer wrote.
The change in Dartmouth’s AP policy reflects how universities may choose to use AP primarily for placement rather than course credit.
“While AP test scores would continue to be a valuable tool for evaluating applicants and would continue to be used for course placement, they will simply no longer be used as a substitute for successful completion of a [Dartmouth] course,” Anderson said.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill gives a bit more freedom to its students by not having a limit on the amount of AP credit a student can receive. UNC allows faculty members to determine which tests are reliable measures of course content and deserve course credit, allowing more credits to be applied toward graduation than a school that has a limit.
“While it is theoretically possible for a student to fulfill all general education requirements with AP or other by-exam credit, this would be a rare occurrence,” wrote Erika Lindemann, associate dean for undergraduate curricula at UNC, in an email Tuesday. “The average number of APs credited to first year students in 2009 was 17 hours. Undergraduate students must complete 120 hours of coursework… to graduate.”
Student opinions at Dartmouth regarding the policy change have varied. Cecelia Shao, a current Dartmouth freshman studying economics, geography and public policy, matriculated with eleven qualifying AP test scores but has only received college credit for three. She says that although her course of study isn’t very dependent on AP credit, having those credits for certain departments could help a lot of students.
“Pre-med is a very intense track, so giving credit for AP’s like Biology or Chemistry would definitely help,” Shao said. “The policy might have been a little too extreme.”