Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: How College Credit in High School Changes College Students' Course of Study

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 11:15 AM
Tequesta (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Michael Drew Hurwitz1, Christopher Avery2, Jonathan Smith1 and Oded Gurantz3, (1)The College Board, (2)Harvard University, (3)Stanford University
Over the past decade, much attention has been focused on the rates of non-completion at four-year postsecondary institutions. Slightly more than one-third of beginning college students earn a bachelor’s degree within four years, and when the time frame is extended to six-years, only 60 percent of students attain a bachelor’s degree. The amount of coursework that students must take to complete a bachelor’s degree is often cited as a major barrier to completing a bachelor’s degree on-time and may adversely impact whether students are ever able to complete their undergraduate studies.

            Research indicates that earning college-credit while still in high school is a viable approach to reducing time-to-degree. However, neither the mechanism responsible for this effect nor the impact on richness/rigor of postsecondary coursework is well known. Are students taking fewer credits leading up to the bachelor’s degree as a result of receiving AP credit? Do credit-granting AP scores enhance a student’s postsecondary experience by allowing them to place out of classes typically reserved for freshmen and to pursue more advanced coursework once enrolled in college? Finally, we ask whether students who receive credit-granting AP scores on certain exams are more likely to major in that exam’s subject.  

            In this follow-up study, we address these questions by utilizing transcript data from the Florida public university system for all AP test-takers who completed high school between 2004 and 2009 as well as data from the National Student Clearinghouse. We focus this study on AP STEM exams, though we also determine whether achieving credit-granting AP scores on non-STEM exams increases participation in STEM coursework during college. We use a regression discontinuity design in which the student’s raw AP score represents the forcing variable, thus we effectively compare the course-taking trajectories of students who just barely earned a 3 (credit-granting) and just missed a score of 3 (non-credit granting).

          Preliminary results examining Florida public college enrollees who took AP Calculus AB demonstrate dramatic discontinuities in course-taking behavior around the 2/3 threshold. Virtually no students scoring a 2 on Calculus AB took second semester Calculus as a first math course in college and among those students just scoring a 3, this percentage shot up to 10 to 15 percent. Nearly a quarter of students who just missed scoring a 3 on AP Calculus AB took college algebra (a pre-cursor to calculus) as a first math course, while only about 10 percent of students barely earning a 3 took this course.