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How Advanced Placement Success Could Save Texas Students Millions

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Education Commissioner Michael L. Williams and the Texas Education Agency announced this week  that the number of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams rose by four percent in the 2011-2012 school year.

The Advanced Placement Programallows high school students to take college-level courses and ultimately exams that they can earn college credit for. The tests are scored on a scale of 1 to 5 . A score of 3 or higher is considered satisfactory. Last year, 194,391 Texas students took 350,700 AP exams.

The College Board, which created and oversees the AP program, estimates that if all of the students who scored a 5 on the exams last year enrolled in one of the state’s two flagship universities and received course credit, they would collectively save between $36.2 million and $42.9 million in tuition costs.

This news comes at a time when climbing college tuition rates are a major talking point in Texas, and on the cusp of a legislative session that will likely address these issues. 

Last month, the Dallas Morning News reported that tuition at Texas public universities has risen 55 percent over the past decade. Annual in-state tuition and fees for an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin now total $9,974. Texas A&M University is not far behind, with an annual price tag of $8,480. Though the UT Board of Regentsrecently agreed to freeze undergraduate tuition and fees for two years at its main campus in Austin, tuition was raised at UT's other campuses. 

Because of the rising cost of tuition, more students and families are taking on debt to finance their own or their children's education. A September report issued by the Pew Research Center showed that a record 1 in 5 households in the United States owed student debt. Among households headed by someone under 35, this rate rises to 40 percent.

Governor Rick Perry recently reiterated his desire for Texas universities to offer students a $10,000 four-year degree. Perry has also stated that universities should lock incoming students into a four year tuition rate, though students could see tuition increases if they stay in college for five years or longer. The Texas Legislature will likely take up these issues when they convene in January. 

Students who take advantage of AP courses and exams could enter college with several credit hours and number of core courses already completed, putting them on track to graduate in four years or less.

Not only did participation in AP testing go up last year, but performance rose as well. Texas students achieved a score of 3 or higher on 162,959 exams. Across the board, there was a 9.1 percent performance increase for Texas students. The greatest improvements in performance were seen among African American and Hispanic students, whose performance increased 12 and 13.9 percent, respectively. 

AP participation has been climbing in Texas for the past few years. Since 2009, the number of AP tests taken in Texas has risen 30.2 percent. At the same time, the number of tests with scores of 3 or higher has risen 30.1 percent.  

While overall AP participation and scores are up among Texas students, participation in math and science AP tests is still lower than that of other subjects.  The most taken AP tests in Texas are in history, language and literature. 

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