The University Network

More High Schoolers Are Taking, Passing AP Courses

More than 1.2 million public high school seniors took an Advanced Placement (AP) course last year, an increase of 57 percent over the past decade. Over that same time period, the number of students who scored high enough on their AP exams to earn college credit increased by 60 percent, according to a new College Board report

“The expansion of AP opportunities is a rare point of consensus in the world of education policy,” Trevor Packer, head of College Board’s AP Program, said in news release. “When states prioritize increasing access to Advanced Placement coursework, students succeed.”

Nationally, high school students have greater access to AP courses than ever before. From 2009 to 2019, the number of schools participating in AP rose from 17,374 to 22,678. 

“More than ever, teachers, school leaders and policymakers are recognizing the value of AP and making student access a priority,” David Coleman, College Board CEO, said in the release. “There are over 5,000 more high schools with AP courses today than there were in 2009.”

Overall, close to 765,000 students in the class of 2019 scored a 3 or higher on their AP exams, which translates to course credit at many colleges and universities. And that course credit saves students time and money by allowing them to get a head start on their degrees. Theoretically, students who pass four or five AP exams throughout high school could shave an entire semester off of their college completion time, potentially saving students and their families thousands of dollars. 

Financially, students from low-income families would stand to gain the most from AP courses. And over recent years, the College Board has made it a priority to make AP exams more affordable for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Typical AP exams cost $94. But, by way of the College Board and partial federal and state funding, low-income students may be eligible to have $32 knocked off that total cost. 

Yet, low-income students still don’t have equal access to the AP courses, critics argue, and neither do minorities. More than half of the high school seniors who took AP courses last year are white, according to the College Board report. 

An outside report released by The Education Trust in January backs up this claim. It found that black and Latino students are disproportionately shorted access to advanced courses, like AP. The authors of the report argue that schools with predominantly black and Latino students simply aren’t offering as many advanced courses. And in racially diverse schools, black and Latino students are unduly shorted access to the courses. 

“Advanced coursework opportunities can place students on the path toward college and career success,” Kayla Patrick, lead author of the report and Ed Trust’s P-12 data and policy analyst, said in a news release. “Yet, too many black and Latino students never receive the opportunity to enroll through no fault of their own. No student should forfeit future success because there were not enough seats in the class or because the seats were not available.”

There has, however, been an outstanding increase in the number of black and Latino students enrolling in AP computer science, according to the College Board report. Since the College Board established AP computer science in 2016, the number of black and Latino students who choose to take the course has more than tripled. 

And the number of female students enrolling in AP computer science has more than doubled, helping to close the huge gender gap among computer science students. 

“Looking at the history of computer science in America, we see that women were instrumental in building so much of the technology we now take for granted,” Stefanie Sanford, chief of global policy for the College Board, said in the release. “Given the right invitation, we know young women will jump at the chance to master technology and drive one of the most dynamic sectors of our economy. That’s what you’re seeing with AP Computer Science Principles, where female participation has more than doubled in the last three years.”

A Google study from 2014 determined that women are more likely to pursue a career in computer science if they are given an opportunity to study it in high school. 

By 2026, computing-related jobs are expected to reach 3.5 million.

“This is certainly about more equitable pathways to Silicon Valley, but it’s even bigger than that,” Sanford added. “All companies are tech companies now. Technology is becoming a core discipline for 21st-century success and citizenship.”

Albeit important, sparking female and minority students’ interest in computer science is one thing. Making sure their interest translates to careers is another. In that regard, university-led initiatives have already emerged to ensure the tech field of the future is a more diverse one.