Poster Paper: Who Benefits from Open Access to Advanced Placement Courses? Evidence from Wisconsin

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Noah Hirschl and Christian Smith, University of Wisconsin, Madison

High schools are increasingly providing opportunities for students to earn college credit before transitioning to college. The Advanced Placement (AP) program is by far the largest program for earning college credits in high school, and has generally enjoyed a prestigious reputation and strong endorsements from teachers and policymakers as it has expanded to reach nearly half of all high school graduates in the nation (NCES, 2019). Yet as it has expanded, inequality in AP participation by race and socioeconomic status has been essentially maintained (Kolluri, 2018; Malkus, 2016). This is troubling in light of increasing evidence that AP courses do have meaningful effects on students’ short-term (Conger, Kennedy, Long, & McGhee Jr, 2019) and long-term outcomes (Jackson, 2010, 2014), particularly if students pass the exams (Gurantz, 2019; Smith, Hurwitz, & Avery, 2017). There have been a wide range of policy responses to these disparities implemented nationally and across states (Klopfenstein, 2004). But whether continuing to expand AP across student populations ultimately benefits students’ academic outcomes is an empirical question, and some scholars have argued that quality is likely to decline with increasing openness (Klopfenstein, 2006), or simply that the benefits of the AP program are oversold (Geiser & Santelices, 2004; Klopfenstein & Thomas, 2009; Lichten, 2000).

The main source of disparities is now enrollment within schools, not disparities in AP courses across them (Malkus, 2016). One particularly contentious—though apparently widespread—policy is to allow any student who has taken pre-requisite courses to enroll in these once exclusive classes (Farkas & Duffet, 2009; Klopfenstein, 2006; Rowland & Shircliffe, 2016). We are not aware of any evaluations of these policies. In this study, we use 10 years of administrative data from public schools in Wisconsin to examine how changes in schools’ course enrollment policies affect access to and success in Advanced Placement courses, as well as postsecondary outcomes. Using a difference-in-differences design, we find that opening access increases AP course enrollment and exam participation significantly among Black, Latinx, and low-income students, and that new students pass the AP exam and a similar rate as students enrolled prior to the policy change. In future analyses, we will look ahead to effects on college outcomes including attendance and persistence to the second year.