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.