UNC System Standardizes AP Credit Policy
In July 2018, the Board of Governors passed a new System-wide Advanced Placement (AP) credit policy. This new policy, a shared top priority of both President Spellings and the Board’s Committee on Strategic Initiatives, will make a score of “three” or higher the standard for credit across the 16 universities in the System. The result will provide students with equal footing to gain college credit, improve degree efficiency, and increase demand for college-level courses in high schools across the state.
Creating More Pathways and Improving Efficiency
Currently, rules on accepting AP scores vary within the UNC System from institution to institution. Ten institutions accept a three on the popular US history AP exam as the cut off score for credit; the remaining six universities consider four the cut off. A score of three on the English Literature and Composition exam is the cutoff at nine institutions, while two institutions require a score of five. Adding to the confusion is the fact that cutoff scores vary from department to department, even within the same institution.
For prospective students who are exploring college options and who have scored threes on the history and the English exams, this variability undermines incentives to consider the full range of possibilities available in the UNC System. Institutions requiring fours automatically look less enticing. In some cases, students might be inspired to shop around for the colleges that will reward them for their hard work in AP courses.
Constituent institutions are still in the process of ironing the specifics of how to make the transition. But when this new policy is fully implemented in the Fall of 2019, prospective students will find more doors open to them throughout the UNC System. No longer will the difference between a three and a four on an AP exam be a determining factor as they decide where they want to attend school. Students can focus on what and where they want to study, with less worry about whether or not their AP courses will fulfill a general education requirement or count toward their major degree.
Making the policy consistent across the UNC System will enhance the University’s efforts to ensure that all North Carolinians have “access to success” by addressing two of the top priorities outlined in its Strategic Plan: increasing enrollments of and completion by underserved students, and improving the transition from K-12 to College.
Studies show that students from rural counties could receive credit for 46.3% more courses. Students from families making less than $60,000 a year could receive credit for 46.2% more Courses. And African American and Hispanic Students would be eligible to receive credit for 52.8% and 42.9% more courses.
By encouraging and rewarding college-level work in the high school classroom, this new policy will level the playing field, making it easier for everyone in the state to transition from high school into the institution of their choice.
“When they rise to the challenge, they’ll be on track to succeed at any one of our 16 institutions, and they will save money.”Margaret Spellings
“The University is steadfastly committed to creating a college-going culture across the state,” said UNC System President Margaret Spellings. “Our new AP Credit Acceptance policy will play a critical role in encouraging high school students in all 100 counties to try their hand at college-level coursework. When they rise to the challenge, they’ll be on track to succeed at any one of our 16 institutions, and they will save money.”
This new policy will also improve completion rates, helping students stay on track toward graduation. Research suggests that students who earn college credit prior to enrolling in college are more likely to graduate and do so in a timely fashion. For this reason, the new AP credit policy is a critical step toward helping the University achieve another one of the key goals in its Strategic Plan: to “improve timely degree completion for all and be the nation’s leader in degree completion by groups with disproportionate achievement gaps.”
A Return On Investment
North Carolina has invested heavily in AP exams as a strategy for improving student college success. To incentivize high school students to test the waters with advanced coursework, every year the General Assembly covers the full cost of every AP exam administered in the state.
“The new AP policy will increase the return on the General Assembly’s $12 million investment in AP exams,” said Strategic Initiatives chair Alex Mitchell. “The state has invested in these students and they’ve worked hard to learn the material, so our system should grant them the credit they deserve.”
In 2016-17 alone, UNC System students missed out on 13,950 course credits under the existing policy. By standardizing how it treats AP scores, the UNC System will grant credit for 40% more courses on an annual basis, so students and taxpayers will not pay to cover the cost of University instruction that revisits the same material students have already learned.
In turn, this new policy will generate more in-state enrollment. Rather than shopping around for institutions that award more credit for AP scores, prospective students will have more incentive and more options available to pursue a degree in the UNC System.
As students move through the University with more efficiency, they will enter the workforce more quickly, fully prepared to succeed in and contribute to our state’s increasingly complex economy.
Streamlining for Student Success, Preserving Academic Rigor
Data-backed evidence shows that this strategy to improve graduation efficiency will do so without diminishing academic excellence.
AP courses are designed to give students an opportunity to experience the intellectual rigor of a college-level class well before they arrive on a university campus. System Office staff fully anticipate that the uniform acceptance rates will drive up demand for AP courses across the state, which means that more students will be practiced and prepared to succeed in the UNC System by the time they graduate from high school.
More than that, the tests themselves are scored to reflect how student success is measured at the college level. An AP exam is graded on a scale of one to five, with a five reflecting the grade equivalent of an A+ at the college level. The new System-wide minimum score of three represents work that is “qualified” and which would earn a grade equivalent in the range of B- to C.
Studies have directly compared students taking subsequent courses in college classrooms. These studies indicate that those who received AP credit for the feeder course performed as well or better than those who did not have AP credit.
In addition, the new AP policy is more clearly aligned with the UNC System’s standards for accepting transfer credits from other institutions. Under the statewide transfer agreement between the UNC System and the NC Community College System, UNC System institutions grant credit for course grades of C or better earned in community college courses. More broadly, a student admitted to a constituent institution may receive undergraduate credit for college-level work completed successfully at another institution of higher education. By this measure, a score of three on any AP exam meets these criteria.
Imagine the thrill a prospective college student experiences when she comes home from school to find a letter from the AP Program notifying her that she has scored three or higher on her history exam. The UNC System’s new policy will amplify this feeling of triumph as she realizes that she has already received credit at any one of 16 universities and that she has improved her odds of graduating on time and with less debt.