It’s human nature to seek a bargain, and one of the best ways to save money on a college education is to get credit for courses while still in high school. That’s why, despite our state’s low ranking in most education measures, we welcome the early successes in a new effort by the state Department of Education to push Advanced Placement courses in high schools.
The College Board reported that 6,407 students scored high enough to get college credit on the AP course tests, an almost 25 percent increase over 2013. The number of African-American students taking the tests rose by one-third last year.
The rate of increase is good, even if Louisiana is late to this particular party: We’re still next to last in the country in the number of students gaining credits, ahead of only Mississippi, although the rate of participation in advanced courses is climbing.
This is real progress for more than one reason.
First of all, it is good news that students take the typically more rigorous AP courses in high school, because if they do go on to college, that work will do them in good stead, whether they get a course credit or not. The credits themselves are significant and provide a financial benefit. This is a good incentive for more rigorous course choices in high school.
The increase is fueled not just by elite schools. Ben Franklin High School in New Orleans leads the state and Baton Rouge Magnet High is second; those are crown jewels of Louisiana’s educational system. But students in Dutchtown and Live Oak and Chalmette are among those around the state showing an increase in tests taken and college credits gained.
Superintendent of Education John White has made the AP initiative a priority, changing school performance scores to give more credit for them and providing training for teachers for more demanding coursework.
Secondly, the growing number of students gaining college credit is an incentive for more students to pursue a college education. There has been a great deal of discussion about the importance of community colleges and technical education to meet the growing demands for Louisiana’s industrial workforce. That’s important, but it is not Louisiana’s only skills gap, as we are one of the lowest states in college attainment as well.
The families who have students in AP classes may be looking ahead to college, and success in those classes will lower their ultimate cost of college. Yet it is students from lower-income families who will grow college enrollments in future years. Part of the AP credit drive is that the state will pay test fees for low-income students.
As White notes, we’ve got a long way to go in so many ways in Louisiana, but these good results from AP tests are a good sign for the future.