Among the new components of the Imagine Duke curriculum to be voted on by members of the Arts & Sciences Council later this semester is the elimination of Advanced Placement credit at Duke. Opponents of the elimination see the decision as an obnoxiously paternalistic decision at best and a heavy-handed cash grab at worst; proponents, however, have suggested that allowing students to use AP credits to skip classes detracts from a robust academic experience by prematurely aborting what is meant to be a full eight-semester experience. We, the Editorial Board, agree with proponents that AP credit should be removed, but believe compensatory adjustments are necessary.
Students at Duke have a unique opportunity to receive instruction from world-renowned instructors and leading researchers. Using AP credits to pass over two classes or graduate early prevents students from taking advantage of it: they have less time to interact with faculty and develop academic depth and breadth than they otherwise would. To be sure, AP classes themselves do offer benefits—they allow students to place out of basic introductory courses and spend more time learning higher level topics. But refusing AP credit does not necessarily mean disallowing students from using their AP scores to place into higher level classes—it simply means that they must still take 34 courses.
There is a misconception that receiving AP credit is critical for every student, but in reality, that is not true. AP credit itself does not exempt students from specific course requirements and students cannot choose which credits to apply. AP credit only reduces the total required course load for students. While that may be beneficial to some students completing majors with long class sequences of such as physics, math, chemistry, engineering, etc., it is not especially necessary for most other students who lose little by having to take an extra two classes.
Admittedly, it is worth noting that Duke has a fiscal interest in preventing students from applying AP credits. If students are unable to apply credits, they will be harder pressed to graduate early and will thus be guaranteed sources of revenue for a full eight semesters. While good for University coffers, that situation could ostensibly be painful for students. But a study by Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford's Graduate School of Education found students from low socioeconomic schools tend to have less access to AP courses. All other things equal, these findings suggest that a student with this profile would most likely be unable to apply AP credits anyways to graduate early.
Another popular criticism of AP credit removal is that it would unduly burden students by demanding they complete more classes than they do now in the same amount of time. While that is true, taking five classes twice in four years is hardly impossible—five classes per semester used to be the norm at Duke.
Even so, the criticism does highlight the silliness of Duke’s credit system wherein students receive one credit per course taken, regardless of workload. If a student, for example, were to be taking four lab classes at once, he/she might spend upwards of 20 hours in class per week but only be classified as taking a regular load; if another student were taking five classes without labs, he/she might only spend 15 hours in class per week yet still be classified as taking an overload.
While we support eliminating AP credits, if the Arts & Sciences Council decides to proceed with doing so, it ought to also look at how its actions would interact with our out-of-place credit system and consider changing that too.
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