GEORGIA - In past years the State of Georgia paid for one Advanced Placement (AP) exam for any low-income student enrolled in a Georgia public school. Exams could be taken in any subject area. This year Georgia lawmakers changed that policy and the change may increase costs for many low-income students and their families in Newton County.
AP exams are taken at the end of AP classes. Students who score high enough on the exam can receive college credit for that class once they enroll in college.
This year Georgia will pay only for science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) related AP exams. It no longer will pay for AP exams in the arts, English, history, social science, or world languages and cultures.
Lawmakers also opened up the opportunity to all students, that is, Georgia now will pay for one STEM-related AP exam for any public school student regardless of the student’s economic status.
An AP exam normally costs $94 dollars. However, the College Board, which administers AP exams, offers fee reductions for low-income students that bring the cost for them down to $53 per exam.
The Legislature changed the policy as part of Georgia’s on-going efforts to get more students interested in STEM courses and careers.
“Our focus as a State on STEM is from what we are being told by employers that they are needing and looking for,” wrote Terry England, state representative from Auburn and chair of the Georgia House Appropriations Committee, in an email message. “We know that these courses are the basis for the high-tech, high-skilled workforce of the future and we wanted to encourage ALL students to pursue these rigorous courses.”
England added, “What has been characterized as a cut in exams for low income students was actually an increase in funding for all students to be able to participate in AP exams with an emphasis on STEM.” The State has appropriated $1.47 million to pay for STEM-related AP exams this year.
According to Nikkita Warfield, director of secondary education and professional learning for the Newton County School System, NCSS students took 829 non-STEM related AP exams and 187 STEM-related AP exams during the 2016-2017 academic year.
Given that 69 percent of last year’s NCSS students were eligible for free and reduced lunch and therefore considered low-income, Georgia’s redirection of funding will impact many NCSS students and families unless alternative support is identified.
Warfield reported that the NCSS “has begun the process of exploring funding options to assist students with paying for exams.”
Ivan Harrell, executive vice president for academic and student affairs at Georgia Piedmont Technical College (GPTC), suggested that one option would be for low-income students to take non-STEM college courses through the State’s Move On When Ready (MOWR) program instead of taking an AP course. MOWR pays tuition for high school students enrolled in a college course.
However, tuition for a three-credit course at GPTC’s or at Georgia State University’s Newton County campuses is about three times more expensive than the cost of an AP exam. When asked about the possibility of more students enrolling in MOWR courses rather than in AP classes at the significantly higher cost for the State, England wrote “MOWR has been growing in popularity and expense. The Department of Audits is currently reviewing the program and we are expecting a report soon about the types of courses students are taking and how effective it is. If adjustments need to be made to the program to make it more efficient and effective, we will do that.”
Another potential option is in the works. Harrell reported that Georgia’s technical colleges, including GPTC, are in the early stages of a plan aimed a “joint coding” high school AP classes with similar college courses.
That means that if a high school AP class’s content and the qualifications of the teacher match the content and teacher qualifications for a college course, the following things can happen. First, the teacher can be certified as a part-time technical college teacher. Second, the students can be dual enrolled in the high school class and the college course. Third, students can receive high school credit as well as college credit for successfully completing the same high school AP class.
The advantages of this approach, should it come to fruition, is that there would be no additional costs to the students and they could get college credit for completing the high school AP class regardless of whether or not they take the AP exam.