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Diverse College Policies Leave Students Uncertain About Transfer of Credit

Although high school students are pushed to take advanced courses in high school, just how much all their hard work will pay off depends on their performance and where they decide to go to college.

Colleges have diverse policies when it comes to granting credit or placement for Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and dual enrollment credit. Departments within colleges often have different criteria, making for a patchwork of policies that can be confusing for incoming students.

In my story, "Colleges Vary on Credit for AP, IB, Dual Classes," I explore the fluid landscape of credit transfer for accelerated courses.  Some elite colleges are becoming more reluctant to accept college-level courses in high school, while others welcome the credits. Some state legislatures have stepped in requiring public institutions to adopt consistent policies.

California has long given students credit on campus for work done in high school, but that practice was formalized in 2010 with a state policy.

"We don't want redundancy. It's silly to bore the student and bore the professor to have them sit in the classroom where they already know the material," said Ken O'Donnell, a senior director of student engagement at the California University Office of the Chancellor.  Still, students who come in with credits do not necessarily get out faster, but instead they tend to take more advanced courses in the same subject, he added.

Since 2009, all Ohio public colleges and universities have been required to grant credit toward a degree for an AP exam score of 3 or higher. "By standardizing it all, it makes it easier for students to plan," said Paula Compton, the vice chancellor of articulation and transfer at the Ohio Board of Regents.

Some colleges were worried about the impact of the policy on their brand. However, students are getting credit for introductory courses, while still completing the institution's signature course as upperclassmen and persisting in subsequent courses after getting AP credit, she said.

(For more on the higher education perspective, see my "Q&A with Miami University President David Hodge.")

Many students sign up for accelerated courses hoping they will shorten their time to degree, but once on campus they often leverage the experience to have a more flexible schedule, study abroad, or take more advanced courses—not necessarily trimming years off of their time in college. And often schools want students to be on their campuses for the full four-year experience.

While public institutions may be more apt to co-operate in supporting a college-completion agenda, some elite universities are concerned with their own survival and are not as interested in systematic change that would require them to accept credit from high school work, says Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, Mass. 

Trevor Packer, the senior vice president of AP and instruction at the College Board, said universities value students doing accelerated work in high school, but policies vary to meet local institutional enrollment goals.

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