Stop Letting High-School Courses Count for College Credit

The following is from the commentary section of the Chronicle of Higher Ed. The article is written by Michael Mendillo who is a professor of astronomy at Boston University. Make sure you not only read the article, but the comments that appear immediately after.

It has been 25 years since I ended administrative service to return to the joys of full-time teaching and research in a science department at a major research university. One of the assets I brought back to my department was a thorough familiarity and appreciation of the teaching and research done by colleagues in the humanities and social sciences. When advising our undergraduate science majors on how to complete their general-education requirements, I felt particularly useful. I could recommend courses across the disciplines taught by professors I knew well.

Those days are gone. We still have outstanding instructors in the departments outside those required for our major, and we still have multicourse breadth requirements. What has changed is that so many students (and the very best ones, in particular) arrive with these requirements already fulfilled. Transcripts show no ambiguity about it: “General Education requirements satisfied by Advanced Placement (AP) in X, Y, and Z.” Discussions with faculty across the country have revealed this to be a nearly universal pattern.

As students, parents, and high-school advisers know, “good students” should strive to take as many AP courses as they can manage, and then pass the placement exams with grades of 4 or 5. This will impress college-admission committees and remove the need to ever experience that ma­terial at an introductory level in college. Moreover, the financial benefits can amount to a semester or more of tuition saved. And the emotional benefits are well known. The sense of being pre-certified with elite status adds to self-esteem—a fact central to those who so successfully market the term “advanced placement.”

But while all of this is going on, does anyone ever ask if it makes sense from an educational perspective? Do we really feel that the best students in a given discipline have no need to experience courses in nonrelated fields? Is this the best way to prepare America’s educated citizenry? It is accepted as reality by university administrators, with only an occasional faculty voice raised in doubt that an AP course is truly equivalent to an introductory course taught at the collegiate level. (Read the rest of the article.)

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