Pell Grants vs. Advanced Placement

By Johnson, Kirk A. | USA TODAY, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Pell Grants vs. Advanced Placement


Johnson, Kirk A., USA TODAY


IN HIS 2004 State of the Union address, Pres. George W. Bush proposed to "expand Advanced Placement programs in low-income schools." The President's subsequent budget for fiscal year 2005 calls tom" $28.000.000 in additional funding for the Advanced Placement Incentive Program. This would allocate some $52,000,000 in 2005 to establish Advanced Placement programs in low-income areas and prepare more teachers to instruct these rigorous classes.

While increasing college-level educational opportunities for low income students is a worthy goal, there are more efficient and cost effective ways in achieve this aim. Specifically, the President and Congress should divert the proposed $52,000.000 to the Pell grant program and aim these funds specifically at bright, low income high school students who could use the grants to attend classes at a community college or state university in the U.S.'s extensive network of higher education restitutions.

Such a program could enable over 43,000 high school students nationwide to attend one college class per semester. There are two basic ways that especially intelligent high school students can perform college-level work. First, they may enroll in Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes. More than 14,000 institution--about 60% of the high schools in the nation--offer at least one AP class. These courses are an extremely challenging way for students to experience the rigors of college while still in high school.

At the end of an AP class, the student is eligible to take a test administered by the College Board (the organization responsible for the SAT and a number of other exams). If he or she achieves a sufficiently high score, most colleges and universities will award the student a certain amount of credit toward a bachelor's degree.

The second way to get college credit while still in high school simply is to take one or more classes at a community college or state university. Virtually all states have some program that allows high school students to take such courses, subject to various admission requirements and regulations.

Federal initiatives clearly have favored the establishment of AP courses. One of the declared purposes of the No Child Left Behind Act was "to increase the number of individuals that achieve a baccalaureate or advanced degree and to decrease the amount of time such individuals require to attain such degrees."

To that end, the No Child Left Behind legislation authorized Advanced Placement Incentive Program grants, which provided roughly $24,000,000 annually to state and local education agencies to fund Advanced Placement and pre-AP programs in low-income communities. Although there are many allowable uses for these grants--including tutoring lessons and faculty in service activities--the intent of the law clearly is to funnel more students into high school-based AP programs.

Pres. Bush's additional funding for FY2005 was proposed to "provide teacher training to expand the pool of instructors qualified to teach AP classes at schools that serve large populations of low-income students."

Generally speaking, AP courses are far more expensive to operate than regular high school classes because of the higher salaries given to teachers who are qualified to instruct these subjects, the smaller class size that is typical of AP programs, and the higher cost of AP books and other materials. For instance, a typical high school math instructor (who might teach, for example, algebra or geometry) has, at a minimum, a bachelor's degree in mathematics or math education and some teaching credential. In contrast, because an AP calculus class would require a higher understanding of complex mathematical concepts, a qualified AP math teacher typically would have a master's degree or perhaps even a Ph.D.

In 2002, an entry-level teacher with a bachelor's degree, teaching in a large urban school district, earned an average of $31,567 per year. …

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