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BREAKING: Faculty Was Misled On AP Credits Policy at Other Ivy Schools

Prominent in the AP piece on the College’s policy change regarding the granting of credit for AP courses was the following statement:

Dartmouth officials weren’t able to point to other colleges that have eliminated credit for AP exams, though some have tightened their policies over the years.

Policies vary at other Ivy League schools. At Princeton, AP tests scores can help students become eligible for “advanced standing,” and earn credit equivalent up to a full year. But no more than five students have taken advantage of that option in recent years, a spokesman said, and there are no plans to change the policy.

Columbia plans to review its policies this year, but for now, allows students to earn up to 16 points through AP tests. But very few use that credit to graduate early, said Dean of Advising Monique Rinere. Similarly, Harvard College currently offers students the opportunity to use test scores to satisfy the language requirement and sometimes to place into higher level courses, but only a small fraction ultimately graduate early… [Emphasis added]

Tell.jpgHowever, at the faculty meeting on November 12, Classics Professor Håkan Tell, the chair of the Committee on Instruction, made the following categorical remarks in his initial presentation of the proposal:

“We are not out of step with other institutions with a deep commitment to undergraduate education in doing this. For example, Brown, Amherst, Williams, Harvard, Princeton and UPenn do not allow AP credits. Cornell and Yale do, but in reality, I’ve been told, it’s very difficult to get credit for those students.”

Nine minutes later in the meeting, a member of the faculty asked this question:

“I just had a question about benchmarking. Are we following our peers with this new policy? In other words, is this something that most of the Ivy Plus and [garbled] and others have done or are doing?”

Tell reiterated the points, in a slightly exasperated manner, that he had made earlier:

“As I mentioned before, we have data, new data, of what the Ivies are doing, and some of the other colleges with a real commitment to undergraduate education. I’ve referred to them. So Brown, for example, University, and Williams and Amherst, Harvard, UPenn and Princeton, do not allow AP credits. Cornell and Yale do, but it’s very difficult to get credit from them. In terms of following our peers, this is something that we have been talking about for the better part of a decade now. We’ve been trying to bring this to the floor of the faculty for a little bit more than ten years.”

A great deal of Professor Tell’s statement is inaccurate. Penn allows AP credits, just as the College used to do prior to the faculty’s vote. Students at Penn can obtain individual credits for AP work, and they may use them to take a light term or even skip an entire semester if they have four credits. Here is Penn’s list of departments offering various levels of credit for AP work. I confirmed that this policy is in place with a call yesterday to the College Office at Penn.

The other Ivy schools cited in Tell’s remarks (but not Amherst and Williams) all allow the use of AP credits for advanced standing, either to eliminate a term or an entire year of study. At Princeton and Brown a student may use AP credits to graduate a semester or a year early, though individual credits may not be used to provide a student with a lighter course load in a given semester. At Harvard, a student with sufficient AP credits (to which may be added credits obtained via various placement examinations during freshman week) can qualify to graduate after three or three and a half years of study.

At Cornell, Kelli Bucci in the Office of Admissions and Academic Advising is listed as having reponsability for the Advanced Placement (AP) Credit area. She told me that students frequently receive coursework credit for AP exams in a wide variety of departments, and students may use these credits to graduate early or take a lighter course load in a given semester.

Yale’s Acting Deputy University Registrar, David Zupko, described for me the university’s policy of acceleration credits, whereby students who use AP credits to skip an introductory course will then receive credit for that course upon successful completion of an upper level course in the department. He said that each year 5-10 students use this option to assemble enough credits to skip a semester of study, or sometimes even an entire academic year.

The Dartmouth faculty’s vote to end the granting of course credit for AP work made national news, undoubtedly to the embarrassment of the College. The press was interested in the story because Dartmouth was making a decision to do something that no other school in the Ivy League has done. The move will certainly make the College less attractive to two types of applicants: those for whom Dartmouth’s high cost is a factor in their decision to attend, and students who have worked hard in high school to obtain many AP credits.

The faculty should have been informed in detail that the College was going out on a limb in crafting a policy that was not in place at our Ivy peers. On the contrary, in the face of a clear inquiry, Professor Tell made definitive statements that were, in fact, far more wrong than correct. And the faculty voted in large part based on the information that he provided. All in all, a poor showing.

Addendum: As I have mentioned previously, a policy change of this kind could have been coordinated with our sister Ivy schools. We went it alone, probably due to a lack of serious research. Such shoddiness now leaves the College at a disadvantage versus other schools in attracting students, and it will do longterm harm to Dartmouth’s reputation.

Addendum: The NYT’s blog “The Choice” continues the now-vigorous national debate on Dartmouth’s AP credit decision.

Addendum: A longtime reader comments:

Thanks for the fascinating insight on the College’s decision making process. I can think of numerous other examples you have pointed out where we know the result but can only imagine the lack of research, facts, and data that accompanied these decisions. I am thinking, for example, about river swimming and the Hanover Inn renovation.

Any family thinking seriously about the cost of college knows that financial aid is limited to four years. After that college can get very expensive. AP credits help to provide a cushion so that students can graduate within four years or less. My youngest son, now a high school senior, anticipates using AP credits to graduate in less than four years. He hopes to use a semester for an internship and earn money while at the same time avoiding much of the costs associated with that semester. It is not so much a question of graduating early as it is a question of graduating on time. The College should make a determination about the percentage of students who would not graduate in four years without benefit of AP credits. That should be easy data to unearth and would be most illuminating. The College has finite resources and if the throughput of students is reduced, as measured by the four-year graduation rate, those resources can get overloaded. I hate to use so impersonal an illustration but what does the College do with an additional 50 or 100 fifth-year seniors?

I am also a bit surprised that College Board, purveyors of the AP tests, did not weight in on Dartmouth’s decision. I would think AP credit elimination is not a trend they would like to see gain momentum. I do not think that they want to single out Dartmouth but I would look for them to make some kind of categorical statement regarding the benefit of taking AP tests.

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