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Report Finds AP Credits Reduce Student Loan Debt

A report from a Vanderbilt University researcher finds correlations between AP credits earned in high school and outcomes in college graduation trends.

student debt note with coins, bills and graduation cap

The amount of Advanced Placement credits earned in high school can have a direct effect on reducing the time to degree, double majoring and taking more advanced coursework, according a recent study from a Vanderbilt University professor published in the American Educational Research Journal. The study takes data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics Beginning of Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study conducted from 2004 to 2009.

Brent J. Evans, an assistant professor of higher education and policy at Vanderbilt University, said his study was designed to determine how students use credits. But he was surprised to learn that students didn't take AP classes to reduce course loads in college or use the time to work for pay in the labor market.

"Students that come with 10 AP credits are increasing their odds of double majoring by 50 percent," Evans said. "It is a really big large change relative to students that don't have AP credits. Working is a less common use of AP credits rather than double majoring and early graduation."

The study used a sample of 14,830 students, but only 7.6 percent of those students earned on average 10 college credits. NCES surveyed students at the end of their first year of college in 2004, then three years later in 2006 and six years after beginning higher education in 2009.

The majority of students with AP credits were more likely to attend four-year institutions that are more selective. The survey sample also suggests that one out of every five students with 10 AP credits graduates a semester early.

Coming into college with 10 AP credits also has a strong correlation associated with student loan debt. There is approximately a reduction in $1,000 in student loan debt for these students.

Students with AP credits are also more likely to take more advanced science and math courses to bypass introductory requirements. However, the increase in the number of science and math courses does not appear to translate into an increased likelihood of a STEM major, according to analyses.

When it comes to graduate school, students with AP credits were 10 percent more likely to enroll compared to students who did not take AP courses in high school. To determine differences in socioeconomic status, Evans looked at Pell Grants to determine that 10 AP credits results in a reduction in time to graduation by half a term, but it did not have an impact on whether low-income students decided to work while obtaining a degree.

"At a policy level, my study shows that Institutions need to look closely on when to offer credit because it looks like it would beneficial to the student," Evans said. "High schools also need to think about allowing students to enroll in AP classes equitably."

A full copy of the study is available for purchase here.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

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