Should We Abolish AP Credits? Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 12 2012 @ 9:13am

A resounding "no" from readers:

I have to strongly disagree with Michael Mendillo's piece disparaging the AP program. From my personal experience attending a shitty public high school in Florida (which has perhaps the worst public education system in America), AP classes were a saving grace that enabled me to get into Harvard. The AP tests gave me the opportunity to demonstrate academic ability independent of the laughable standards in my home state. For my tenured, unionized teachers, the AP tests incentivized them to actually work, since the state would grant them bonuses for good AP scores. I freely admit that AP is not as rigorous as a competitive college course, which is why selective schools will not grant credit. Nonetheless, taking even a quasi-college level class can be indispensable to later success. In my experience at Harvard, where I majored in chemistry and biology, most of my peers had taken a full slate of AP science courses; those who hadn't were seriously disadvantaged.

Another writes:

Mendillo argues that the College Board is somehow setting the curriculum for colleges, which is a pretty ridiculous claim.

Colleges can pick and choose which AP courses they accept for intro credit and which they don't. If the college decides something outside of the AP Computer Science A/B test should be in its intro-course curriculum, the college puts that outside-the-AP-course thing in its curriculum and then doesn't accept the CS A/B credit. If a college does accept an AP course for credit, it means the college has examined the AP course curriculum, compared it to its own intro-level curriculum, and made the determination that the AP curriculum is either identical to or greater in scope than that intro class. The College Board has no authority in that decision.


At the root of his argument is a belief that the type of learning done at universities is not possible for "students 15 to 18 years old." This is little more than ageist nonsense. The types of students who set out to take lots of AP exams are not the targets of general education requirements. They enter university with a broad range of interests, and these don't suddenly disappear when they start doing more advanced work. But, with the credit gained from AP exams, they can take real courses in other fields rather than having to sit through a 200-person lecture with a professor who won't learn many names and a graduate student TA who does all of the grading and most of the small-group and individual consultation with students.


I disagree with Dr. Mendillo's argument, particularly his assessment of introductory college courses. Essentially, his point is that unlike AP courses, college courses go beyond rote memorization of facts into the realm of meaningful interaction with scientists and their state-of-the-art research. And thus, it is a shame that students are allowed to AP out of classes that are not in their major. This belief diverges from reality.

Firstly, cutting-edge science has no place in an introductory science course. The goal of such a course is to provide students with the basic facts that form the framework of a discipline. Thus, almost all of an introductory college course must be focused on memorizing facts. There's no way around it if you want to educate your students properly. Moreover, introductory classes don't yield any meaningful interaction between professor and pupil. These classes everywhere are faceless throngs of students that are never taught by leaders in the field.

Which begs the question: if a non-major can get the same framework of facts in a more intimate setting and free up a semester or two for more advanced courses in their field of study… why is that a bad thing?


Because of my performance on AP testing, I was able to gain 20 hours of college credit at the large national university I attended. In the end, these credits allowed me to graduate one semester early, thereby saving me $10,000 in out-of-state tuition, and also allowed me to find full-time employment six months before I planned to. In all, these AP credits equaled to me over $20,000 in cost savings and the gain of a paycheck.

While high schools and colleges have broadened a dual-enrollment curriculum the last decade, it still lags in many parts of the country and many high school students are unable to take or afford college courses that can later be used as transfer credits. Until then, AP remains a cheap and viable way for high-achieving students to gain college credit while in high school.

Another success story:

By taking 10 or so AP classes while in high school, my daughter graduated from University of Georgia program in three years, saving around $25,000 in out-of-state tuition and living expenses. She is spending her "bonus year" traveling abroad and working several jobs to save money for medical school. She was fortunate that her high school was one of the top-rated public schools in the nation, and her AP classes were taught by college-level professors. She was able to get all the required basic courses out of the way, allowing her time in college to go deeper into her area of focus so that she double-majored, and had time for participating in volunteer work in her field and a part-time job.  Win win.