Students in the University System of Georgia are used to receiving some college credit for having taken advanced-level courses in high school. Some of them might be able to place out of an entire year if a new bill is signed into law later this month.
The legislation, which has passed the Georgia General Assembly, calls on public colleges and universities in the state to award at least 24 hours of college credit for students who receive International Baccalaureate diplomas. That means they have earned a score of four or higher on six assessments during the two-year high school program that is offered at dozens of Georgia schools.
Gov. Sonny Perdue has until May 30 to respond to the bill and has given no indication of which way he is leaning. In a letter earlier this month, Erroll B. Davis Jr., chancellor of the university system, urged him to veto the measure on the grounds that it improperly gives the Legislature authority to assess academic work.
The bill, which would take effect starting with the class that enters in fall 2008, gives public colleges the option of granting fewer than 24 semester credit hours if a student receives a score of less than four on an IB test. Both private and public colleges in Georgia award college credit on a case-by-case basis for students who take IB and Advanced Placement classes.
The university system recognizes IB assessment exams called "higher level" as covering material beyond a standard high school level. Half of the IB exams are in "standard level" courses, which the system doesn't consider on par with a first-year college course. In other words, Davis said an IB diploma doesn't equate to 24 hours of university-level work.
Rep. Bill Hembree, a Republican who is chairman of the House Higher Education Committee and who introduced the bill, said he sees it as a way to motivate Georgia high school students to take more rigorous classes and attend a public university in the state.
"My concern is that the university system isn't recognizing the IB diploma in the same way that is does Advanced Placement courses," Hembree said. "I want there to be a uniform approach so that when a student graduates, there is an option for him or her to finish in three years."
Hembree based the bill on a law passed in Texas that guarantees students college credit for earning an IB diploma. Florida and California also have similar legislation.
In his letter to the governor, Davis writes that while he is a proponent of the IB program, "arbitrarily awarding 24 hours of college credit for it ... is not in the best interest of students or the university system." He said decisions about academic credit must be made at the university level. "The legislature has no special qualifications to judge a student's placement in a college or university program. It is not in a student's interest to be placed in a more advanced course than he or she can successfully complete."
Ralph Cline, deputy regional director of IB North America, defended the quality of the program. "IB diploma candidates take high-level classes in all subjects," he said, adding that the level only refers to the breadth of a course.
Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said there's no doubt that some IB diploma programs are better than the first year at some institutions.
"We hold the IB program in high regards, but we concur with the chancellor’s position, which is to say that judgment about credit worthiness should be purely academic," Nassirian said. "Writing it into law is ill-advised and it opens academic judgment to political interference. That's never a good idea.”
Hembree said he is not trying to "circumvent a process or overpower a board." He said Davis is concerned about the law primarily because if students graduate earlier it means less revenue for the system. Graduating students on time or early would help save the system money on HOPE Scholarship spending, as well, Hembree added.
Davis also says in the letter that if the law passes it opens up accreditation concerns, because it would mean colleges have "ceded academic authority" to an outside entity. Cline said he has never heard of even "the slightest ripple about accreditation" in the other states that have similar laws.