The role of nationally recognized and normed assessments such as those offered by the College Board (AP and CLEP) in the success of University of Kentucky’s incoming undergraduate students has been an important line of inquiry for several years. (See the list of the various tests and the scores used for assigning UK college credit at the UK Admissions website.)
In 2009 and 2010 a group of faculty leaders from across the colleges came together to discuss the issues involving a successful transition of Kentucky high school graduates to UK’s introductory sciences courses. During those discussions, which included various workgroups and summits with Kentucky high school AP sciences teachers, questions arose regarding the adequacy of academic preparation in AP courses. A report was generated by Undergraduate Education in collaboration with the Office of Institutional Research focusing on the 2008 and 2009 graduation cohorts, and a resulting white paper published in the UKnowledge repository explored some possible interpretations regarding placement.
Of the 4079 students in the official 2008 cohort, 1135 students (28%) earned college credit from prior assessments. A slight increase in credit for good test scores in the next year: Of the 4111 students in the official 2009 cohort, 1267 students (31%) earned UK from tests taken prior to admission. The 2011 official cohort consists of 4,082 first-time, full-time degreeseeking students; and, of those, 1,456 students earned credit for prior learning from high enough scores for one or more tests from AP (the vast majority), IB, CLEP and PONSI (i.e., military credit). This shows a regular increase, from 28% in 2008 to 36% in 2011 of the official graduating cohorts earning UK credit from tests prior to admission to UK for Fall 2011.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky has always favored the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams as a form of credit for prior learning and has not only a state regulation requiring public postsecondary educational institutions to grant academic college credit toward graduation for students taking high school advanced placement courses and scoring at a certain level (http://www.lrc.state.ky.us/kar/013/002/025.htm). In addition, the state directed the Kentucky Council for Postsecondary Education to work with the public institutions to standardize the granting of college credit for popular tests; and, to post those agreed-upon scores (see the .pdf file here) for students, families and legislators to see. The state also supports the Advance Kentucky initiative focusing on broadening access to high quality AP courses and their AP exams (http://www.advancekentucky.com).
According to the College Board’s staff from AP College & University Services, the high school students who take AP exams and earn credit at postsecondary institutions succeed at higher rates than those who do not. They posit that AP students who earn exemptions from introductory courses at postsecondary institutions perform as well or better than non-AP students in the sequent courses and earned higher overall GPAs. They tend to persist and complete a baccalaureate degree within four or five years. The AP students generally took more courses in the disciplines they earned credit for while in high school, and were more likely to major in a closely related discipline. (For more information on these statements, see the College Board research publications website and search on AP.)
A slide presentation by the Director of Higher Education Policy Analysis included this graph showing a high correlation between AP exams and the students’ major in postsecondary institutions. This correlation is particularly strong for STEM subjects. For example students who took AP Computer Science exams (while fewer in number overall) tended at a very high ratio (nearly 6 times likely) to major in Computer and Information Sciences in college. Those who took AP Biology exams were twice as likely to major in biological and biomedical sciences in college. Those who took a math, statistics or physical sciences AP exam tended almost half again as much to major in a major relying on those fields.
What about AP students here at UK? Is there a statistical correlation between successful scores in an AP Exam and the major chosen by a student when first entering UK? Does this kind of external motivation from the high schools/College Board programming help or hinder success in particular disciplines at UK? Is this AP-induced choice, if maintained over time, still a good fit for students after their first year at UK? or do they begin to “swirl” across colleges and begin to lose time to degree?