Women in Academia: Standing Up for AP Credits

The AP Credit debate is not a new one.  On the one hand, high schools and colleges often have different learning goals, which makes sense as students start to challenge themselves and think in more complex ways about the material. On the one hand, AP classes provide a benefit to many students. On the other other hand, including cutting edge scholarship in introductory classes is crucial to developing connections between students and the material they’re learning (the link  is to a Michael Mendillo article at the Chronicle of Higher Ed, a thoughtful and recent comment on the issue).

But I can’t agree with the idea of removing AP credits from college credit. My disagreement comes from two places, the first one of which is entirely pragmatic. With rising tuition and fees, undergraduate students are finding it more and more difficult to attend college. Many take AP classes or spend a year or two at community college before transferring to a university. Both routes (sometimes taken together) allow the student to spend less time in the expensive university, while still receiving a degree from that institution. Both allow the student to have control over their educational and financial futures. When 85% of students are moving back home with their parents after graduation, and when unemployment and especially underemployment among young adults is still very high, it seems unrealistic to argue for cutting one of the routes students have to making their college experience shorter and therefore more affordable.

The second one, well, OK, maybe that’s a bit pragmatic, too. It’s time to stop idealizing the college environment. It’s especially time to stop idealizing the college environment as a place of unfettered learning, stimulating discussions, and close, professional faculty-student relationships. Class sizes, especially introductory class sizes, are getting larger and more and more classes are being taught by TAs. This is not a knock on TAs at all ““ many of them work very hard to make the material interesting, clear, and engaging. But it’s worth acknowledging what our universities look like now, what these 300 person lecture classes, co-taught by multiple professors and an army of TAs, podcasted to the students really look like. For too long, academia has been romanticized and it is now interfering with our ability to address the needs of our students and to fulfill our educational mission. Perpetuating this romanticized notion at the expense (sometimes very literal financial expense) of our students is unacceptable.

4 replies on “Women in Academia: Standing Up for AP Credits”

AP credit worked really well for me, because the fact of the matter was, I didn’t NEED to take Freshman English.  I could write a paper better than most incoming freshmen.  I didn’t NEED to take introductory chemistry, I was really good at chemistry.  And while I didn’t actually TAKE the AP spanish test, the AP spanish class allowed me to do enough independent study to pass into the Junior level of Spanish classes.  That meant I took 6 Spanish classes at the University and went to Spain for a semester and was able to get a B.A. in Spanish.  Without AP classes, I couldn’t have double majored in 4 years, studied abroad, and only taken 12 credit hours a semester in my senior year, allowing me to work three jobs and save money for law school.

Did I still take introductory classes?  Yep.  Intro classes in my major, anthropology, as well as intro classes in the Honors College, including a class just for small groups of freshmen to get to know the Honors Community.  AP classes didn’t stop me from getting used to college, but they sure did save me a TON of money.

I don’t say this to brag, but rather to offer my point of view as a former AP class pro. I had excellent teachers in my AP classes who taught everyone in our county, which was the only way we could have had a 15-person AP Spanish Literature class which got me out of intro survey lit, or AP art history, which introduced me to part of my international studies major three years before I declared it. All of my teachers  had at least 20+ years experience teaching AP courses, and I had their classes often in their last years of teaching. They had so much knowledge to impart and I learned a ton from them. I even got to take AP Human Geography on a whim when it was a brand new course, and not only was it really damn easy and unstructured compared to some of the older courses, it was fun and also led me toward international studies.

I came into college with 63 hours of AP credit, which would technically have made me a junior. I took 12 AP classes and passed all the exams, most with 5’s. This got me out of nearly every perspective-level class, intro-level foreign language, intro-science, intro-math, and intro-history. The only perspective classes I had to take were the “diversity requirement,” ancient history, and philosophy. I didn’t have to take the placement test for Spanish, which was one of my majors, and this allowed me to go straight into the gateway-to-the-major course before I’d even declared it. Not only was that convenient it saved my ass in my second semester when I changed my major suddenly from chemistry to Spanish and had to completely alter my schedule one month into the semester.

In my freshman year I found myself missing the intensity of my AP courses. College was much more laid-back, and as an extremely intense person, it was a bit of a letdown in those first two semesters. Of course I got used to it and adjusted accordingly, but it was a huge transition. The other great thing all those AP credits afforded me was time in college to goof off. I didn’t do that in high school as I was extremely focused and goal-oriented toward college, but as soon as I got there, I realized hell yes, I’ll never have to work that hard again if I don’t want to. And I didn’t, and damn, that was liberating. It was even moreso when I spent a year in the south of Spain, which I also couldn’t have afforded without my $2500/yr scholarship I got from doing so well in those AP courses, which ultimately paid for one of my four years at Carolina.

As for TAs vs. full-fledged professors, I got a healthy mix of both. The Spanish department never had classes bigger than about 20 people, and all my major-level classes were taught by professors rather than TAs. International studies courses were a little different, and most of those wound up being big lectures with recitation sections conducted by TAs, though I did have one with the chair of the Asian Studies dept. While they weren’t my favorite courses, those definitely kept the variety in my education. I don’t dislike large lectures as long as the professor has a lot to say. One of my favorite classes ever was my history of Rome class, which although it had only 20 people in it, it was just as intense as AP US History. Our professor knew so much he didn’t need to consult notes, and it felt more like story time with Dr. Talbert than history class, kind of like my AP US class was. Two other excellent lectures were on medical anthropology and environmental studies, which all counted toward international studies.

There’s no way I could have wrung as much education out of my four years at my alma mater if it hadn’t been for the insane amount of preparation I got from AP courses. I gained essential writing skills, time management skills, and survival skills in my AP courses. I learned to never fear tests after my junior year when I took 30 AP practice tests in one week. My Spanish teacher told me I looked like a zombie at the end of that one. I remember the first AP exam I took which was Math BC, and I was shocked at how not-difficult it was compared to class. It let me know in advance that I was much more capable of anything I’d ever thought, and I know I wouldn’t be in my current career as an interpreter without my two years in the AP program. And that’s all I have to say about that.

My school didn’t offer AP courses (if you wanted college credit early, you had to attend the community college on your own time, the credits didn’t transfer down to high school requirements).  But my roommate freshman year of college had taken enough AP courses, somehow, I’m not sure how the system works, to qualify credit-wise as a sophomore.  It was incredible.

And as the youngest of four brilliant kids, she needed all the assistance she could get to keep costs low. She’s now at UCSF getting a medical degree with plans to do research, so… Go AP courses.

It would just be nice if they could be offered at more high schools…

I took four AP tests (after taking a mix of AP and GT classes) and was able to place out of six classes totalling 18 credit hours. My scholarship was only good for four years, so I never would have managed to finish in time with a double major without those credits putting me a full semester ahead. (Of course, this was in the mid-90s when teaching to the test wasn’t nearly as big a deal.)

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