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Why do many four-year colleges give credit for AP scores but deny credit for college classes if they were taught in the wrong building?

This happens often enough to be frustrating, but it still seems known mostly to those on the front lines. I haven’t seen much policy-level discussion of it yet. We need some.

AP and IB classes are usually taught by high school teachers, in high schools, to high school students. Students take exams at the end of the courses. Many colleges will give credit for scores at a certain level or higher. For instance, for many AP classes, Rutgers will give credit for scores of 4 or 5. Although it isn’t usually considered “credit by assessment,” “credit by examination” or “prior learning assessment,” that’s essentially what it is. In both PLA and CBE, the general idea is that if a student proves knowledge or ability in a certain domain and at a certain level, it doesn’t matter how the student acquired it. The student gets credit based on what they can demonstrate. Although the language is clunky, it’s based on outputs, rather than inputs.

PLA offers the ability to recognize student competencies that may have been earned outside of credit-bearing college classes. For adults, CLEP and DSST tests often serve that purpose. Many colleges also have local assessments -- portfolios, challenge exams and the like -- to allow students with uncommonly strong backgrounds in certain areas to place out of the introductory class in that area. For instance, at a previous college we had a student enroll who had been a photographer for the Army. Based on a portfolio of his work, we exempted him from the Intro to Photography course.

Recognizing student abilities with credits can save students time and money. We know that shortening the path to graduation tends to improve graduation rates. And it prevents students from having to endure classes for which they already know the material, which is just frustrating for everybody.

But many of the same colleges that will give credit for CLEP or AP balk at actual college classes taught when students are still in high school. This, despite the fact that AP and IB tests are typically given while students are in high school.

I’d like to know why.

Is it because students with dual-enrollment credits do worse in subsequent college than demographically similar students with AP credits? If so, I’d like to see the evidence.

The criteria that four-year schools apply are inconsistent enough that I suspect they aren’t based on much. Some of them disallow any classes taken prior to high school graduation. Others don’t go quite that far but will disallow any classes taught in a high school building. (In the age of Zoom, I’m not even sure how that’s defined.) Some will allow classes in the high school building, but only if students aren’t also getting high school credit for them.

Presumably, if these exclusions were evidence-based, they’d be more consistent. From the perspective of a school that offers dual enrollment and prides itself on a strong transfer record, it feels much more like post hoc reasoning surrounding a core of “we don’t wanna.”

Taken to its logical conclusion, the position that CLEP is okay but college classes taught in high schools are not is bizarre. So a student can pick up knowledge over YouTube, take a test in high school and get credit, but taking a class with a professor in that same high school is somehow illegitimate?

The only argument I can imagine there is that CLEP, AP and the rest rely on third-party graders. But the classes we teach in our own buildings don’t have third-party graders, and those classes transfer.

This seems like the sort of thing that accreditors should take seriously. Institutions are forced to prove “integrity” in their operations. At first blush, this sort of double standard doesn’t pass the integrity test. At the very least, they should be compelled to give reasons they can defend in public. I have yet to see one.

Wise and worldly readers, is there a defensible reason for the double standard? I’m at a loss.

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