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Talent & education

Thousands of low-income, minority students missing out on college-prep classes

(courtesy photo)

(courtesy photo)

Only 3 percent of low-income and African-American high school students in Michigan are enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) classes that help them get a toehold in college. That’s one of the lowest rates in the nation, according to a study conducted by Education Trust.

The AP gap puts an estimated 12,000 poor and minority kids a step behind as they enter college — and could prevent some from getting admitted to more prestigious universities.

“Access to these college-level courses in high school is an important part of preparing students for higher education,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of Education Trust-Midwest, the Michigan-based affiliate of Education Trust in Washington. “We must work to ensure that students of color and low-income students are participating equitably.

“These students are our future,” Arellano said, “and we can’t leave them behind.”

Advanced Placement classes are college-level courses that offer high school students the potential of earning college credits if they perform well enough on AP tests given at the end of the course.

Those college credits can lessen the cost of earning a degree — some students enter college with a semester’s worth of credits or more.

Also, students who don’t take AP classes offered in their high schools could be at a disadvantage when applying for admission to elite universities, many of which examine whether applicants took the most rigorous courses available to them

According to the study, about 8 percent of Michigan’s high school students were enrolled in AP classes in 2010, compared to 12 percent nationally.

About 3 percent of low-income students in Michigan were enrolled, compared to 13 percent of their richer peers. Overall, 10 percent of white students were enrolled, compared to 3 percent of African Americans. The national rate of AP enrollment among low-income students is twice as high as Michigan’s rate.

Those figures are both a symbol of the achievement gap with which Michigan schools are struggling, and an exacerbating factor, said John Austin, the Democratic president of the State Board of Education.

“We need to up the numbers of all students participating in these advanced courses,” Austin said. “All forms of early college credit-taking improve the chances of college completion.”

Two potential ways to narrow the gap are to eliminate the financial burden of the classes (some AP tests have a student fee attached in Michigan schools), and to make AP classes an opt-out option rather than an opt-in.

Minnesota has not only closed the gap, but reversed it, with 18 percent of low-income students taking AP classes and 14 percent of non-low-income students participating.

“Some states made it part of a strategy to focus on early college credit, through AP classes or early college,” Austin said. “We (in Michigan) haven’t figured out how to fund early post-secondary credit.”

State Number of HSs HS with AP Program Number of Students in AP Overall Participation Rate Not Low-Income Rate Low-Income Rate
AK 51 34 2,546 8% 12% 2%
AL 273 165 12,289 6% 13% 2%
AR 282 269 19,187 15% 24% 6%
AZ 414 173 19,737 7% 10% 5%
CA 1,220 1018 234,417 13% 19% 9%
CO 290 191 28,412 13% 19% 5%
CT 164 148 19,669 13% 16% 4%
DC 26 20 1,775 13% 34% 7%
DE 27 26 3,344 11% 17% 4%
FL 457 392 145,192 20% 30% 11%
GA 383 344 60,610 13% 23% 4%
HI 39 37 3,397 7% 9% 3%
IA 322 183 8,116 6% 10% 2%
ID 121 59 4,512 6% 11% 3%
IL 649 429 54,066 9% 16% 7%
IN 337 309 30,374 10% 14% 2%
KS 341 96 7,384 5% 12% 3%
KY 217 199 19,233 10% 17% 4%
LA 212 107 4,603 3% 7% 2%
MA 282 263 31,405 12% 15% 6%
MD 186 177 48,069 19% 24% 7%
ME 109 101 6,174 11% 16% 4%
MI 640 431 38,872 8% 13% 3%
MN 442 221 24,261 9% 14% 18%
MO 486 186 13,233 5% 10% 3%
MS 202 130 5,015 4% 9% 2%
MT 168 82 2,618 6% 10% 2%
NC 472 379 40,872 10% 16% 2%
ND 165 18 1,083 3% 9% 1%
NE 309 57 4,006 4% 9% 1%
NH 88 75 4,437 7% 8% 2%
NJ 341 323 37,863 10% 12% 4%
NM 159 74 6,117 7% 11% 7%
NV 100 67 9,726 8% 11% 7%
NY 916 751 101,973 12% 19% 6%
OH 776 519 38,046 7% 12% 2%
OK 462 293 13,013 8% 14% 4%
OR 251 154 12,440 7% 13% 3%
PA 602 502 38,633 7% 11% 2%
RI 46 39 2,656 6% 9% 2%
SC 195 169 17,264 8% 15% 3%
SD 169 88 2,149 6% 9% 2%
TN 303 195 16,119 6% 11% 2%
TX 1137 907 147,403 12% 18% 10%
UT 134 99 15,629 13% 19% 3%
VA 306 285 57,304 15% 22% 4%
VT 44 43 2,805 10% 13% 3%
WA 307 262 31,447 11% 15% 6%
WI 463 347 26,282 10% 14% 3%
WV 105 94 4,533 6% 10% 1%
WY 63 25 1,114 5% 8% 1%
US 16,248 11,552 11% 16% 6%

Senior Writer Ron French joined Bridge in 2011, after winning more than 40 state and national journalism awards at The Detroit News. See more stories by him here.

5 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. David Dugger

    Early / Middle College Programs, such as the Early College Alliance @ EMU, Washtenaw Technical Middle College, Great Lakes Bay Early College, Mott Middle College and many others across the state are addressing the college access/credit gap issue. They work within the existing structure of secondary education and they do not subsidize a private sector concern (AP) with public dollars. Moreover, they are designed to create successful college students, as opposed to AP, which is simply “a pay to play program” that at best provides students the outside chance to attain college credit within a high school setting.

    Early/Middle college ideas can go to scale, are cost efficient and provide all students access. What we are missing is the visionary leadership at the local and post-secondary levels across the state to re-structure the K-12 model to allow this to happen. Local control and a 1950’s mindset of what K-12 education is supposed to be will never solve the problem.

  2. Ann O'Connell

    I fully support waiving the AP Exam fee for enrolled students in all Michigan schools. That’s part of providing a “free and appropriate public education” for our more able students. But making AP Courses opt out instead of opt in is a terrible idea. The whole point of AP classes is that they are for students who have already learned most of the grade level material / met the expectations for their age level and are ready to tackle material that is more complex, more detailed, or beyond the scope of a typical high school class. Enrolling students in AP classes for the wrong reasons will lead to lower student achievement and will quickly weaken the positive associations of AP classes with college admission and completion. Race and low income rather than high levels of achievement in previous classwork or relevant standardized tests are the wrong reasons for a student to take AP classes.

    If you want more minority and low income kids to end up qualified to take AP classes, the most effective way to do that would be to group elementary and middle school students by ability / achievement within each school, so that the most able students are allowed to progress as far and as fast as they can, the poorest students can be brought along from where they are to get much closer to where they need to be and the middling-good students do not have their educations disrupted. Groups should be adjusted every marking period or every quarter of the school year, and should allow students to meet with the group at their level in each subject, no matter their current age or grade.

    1. Charles Richards

      I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. O’Connell. This is excellent.

  3. Charles Richards

    After noting, “Access to these college-level courses in high school is an important part of preparing students for higher education,” Ms. Arellano goes on to say, “We must work to ensure that students of color and low-income students are participating equitably.” Both statements imply that some students are actively being denied the opportunity to take these classes. Does she have evidence for that? Or is it possible that these students lack some essential character traits that would impel them to take these classes and, once enrolled, to succeed? And, if so, how do you deal with that?

    After saying, “According to the study, about 8 percent of Michigan’s high school students were enrolled in AP classes in 2010, compared to 12 percent nationally.” Mr. French goes on to say, “The national rate of AP enrollment is twice as high as Michigan’s rate.”

  4. Duane

    “Two potential ways to narrow the gap are to eliminate the financial burden of the classes (some AP tests have a student fee attached in Michigan schools), and to make AP classes an opt-out option rather than an opt-in.”
    Simply getting the numbers up will not change whether the kids succeed.

    The reality is that they have to see the value of an education, have to want to learn, have to be willing to sacrifice to learn before they will learn. If the student doesn’t want to learn they will not learn no matter how low the threshold is to get into a program, or much easy the program is made.

    It is easy to came that there are barriers to such programs, it is easy to fix those supposed barriers, but if the student’s wants and desires are ignored their success will be no better than it is today.

    What needs to be asked is why do students want to learn, why do they want go on to college, why are they willing to sacrifice their time, effort, and pressures to the contrary to learn and succeed academically. When we better understand that then we can begin to help other students to gain those values and to succeed.

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