When analyzing the value of the Advanced Placement program, universities must carefully weigh the perceived quality of high school coursework, including the year-end exam, against the benefits AP courses provide. While its services have been criticized over the years, AP holds an invaluable place in higher education, and it should not be discarded.
Dartmouth College, which recently decided to cease the practice of awarding credits to students with exemplary AP exam scores, was wrong to scrap its partnership with the program. UC Berkeley, and other campuses in the UC system, should not follow suit. Universities should instead look at how they can improve usage of AP credits to make it easier for students to get degrees. That process will inevitably mean taking a critical look at how AP can do better itself, but UC campuses need to continue granting credits.
At UC Berkeley specifically, AP fills a necessary role in allowing standout high school students to accelerate their academic progress. For many, this only means earning a few extra units. It allows others to pass out of certain requirements or even graduate early. These benefits cannot vanish. Especially given the university’s rising tuition levels and the crushing burden of student debt nationwide, UC Berkeley needs to be doing everything it can to keep its degrees attainable. Disbanding AP credit will do just the opposite.
The applicability of AP courses varies greatly among UC Berkeley students. Despite the nationally standardized exam, AP’s compatibility with college courses depends on the skill of the high school AP teachers and the expectations of each university department. Some students, specifically those in science- and math-related fields, are required to repeat courses regardless of whether they have taken the AP equivalent.
But is the program living up to its potential? An informal Dartmouth study found that 90 percent of students who passed the AP Psychology exam could not test out of the college’s introductory psychology course. Those results, in tandem with Dartmouth’s related decision, demonstrate that there is reason to be dissatisfied with using AP exams as a substitute for college learning.
However, rather than following Dartmouth’s model, UC Berkeley and other campuses should consider changes that allow students to determine for themselves if they are prepared to take a course or opt out.
This could mean implementing specific placement exams to gauge a student’s knowledge and level of preparedness. Another option is to take the question to the student body and ask them how well AP courses prepared them for their studies at UC Berkeley. The campus could then use that information to develop clearer expectations for what students need to know to opt out of each entry-level course.
As colleges examine their own practices, the College Board needs to continue evaluating itself in an effort to enhance the AP program. It may be flawed, but the benefits that AP provides to students are too crucial to eliminate.