Monday, May 25, 2015
Almost all of my fellow students and I took honors classes in high school, and those were pretty rigorous and wouldn't have left time for community college classes. As a high school senior, I took honors English, calculus, honors physics, history, French, and Latin (at a large public high school in a working-class city). When I got to college, all of my classmates had had similar coursework. Plus, about 50% of my freshman class came from private schools, especially of the Exeter and Deerfield variety. (My college alma mater also is pretty picky about taking any transfer credits.)
Now that I teach at a community college, the small number of dual enrollment students we have don't end up going to elite colleges. They tend to favor mostly public flagship universities, with a few opting for less-selective private schools. (And there definitely don't seem to be too many honors high school seniors walking the halls of my cc. The few that we've had are academically capable, but aren't superstars.)
I guess I'd say that, in my experience, there isn't much of an intersection between the dual enrollment and elite college crowds.
My personal (very positive) experience is irrelevant, because status-seeking by universities back then was nothing like it is today. In my day, entering college with calc 3 completed was WAY better then some AP class, and it still is. I think an AP class, where you can get an A++ on your transcript even if you fail the AP exam or pass it with what amounts to a college C, is dangerous. So is thinking that doing 14 weeks of work in an entire HS year is "doing collge work". I've seen some kids in shock when they discover what a "mere CC class" requires of them. But only regular universities seem to want them to have passed real college classes. As you noted, the elites seem to be collecting stamps.
My own experience is that the acceptance of dual-enrolled credits as an 'elite' signal depends a lot on whether a university has personal knowledge of your work product. Places that get a steady supply of our students can trust us in a way that an elite private school many states away probably cannot.
I saw one crazy case where graduating HS with an AA degree that included more than any HS could ever offer was not enough. But I told the student that they could always go there for grad school after that place came to its senses. The student is using those free 60 credits to do research plus a double major. But I think I understand why one student got accepted (as a regular AA transfer) at an elite school while another one did not. The one that got in had straight As. You have to be closer to us to trust a B.
AP Biology is a far more rigorous course than even Introductory Biology for majors at most CCs (and I would argue that the skills required for the exam surpass the equivalent course at my universities).
Both my AP HS students and my CC students care a lot about their grades, but I see the AP students working harder and getting more out of the course, and in the end, most will EARN a passing grade. I wish I could say the same for the CC class, where several will badly fail every exam and then beg for extra credit. Sadly, I've learned to make my CC exams way easier.
Given that the kids who take AP classes in HS walk in with more skills and more motivation than my CC students, it seems to me that those taking AP courses in senior year are experiencing a more academically-minded culture than seniors who are sitting in a CC class.
So college bio-for-majors faculty don't use the "would I want to wake up in an E-room with that student standing over me" criteria? Enlightening.
My only thought is that I would hate to see the post-transfer data from your CC if you water down the tests that much. Must be awful if your principle is that you hope someone else will fail them because passing is more important than learning at your college.
Maybe that explains my experience with students transferring to schools that don't know our college's reputation for science classes that are not biology. (Some of our bio classes use multiple choice questions just like the giant university classes do.)
I should clarify -- certainly many more of my AP Bio students pass the course than the exam, but that does not phase me. The AP Bio exam is very challenging and emphasizes a specific skill set (the ability to read long questions very very quickly), that many students who would excel in college bio have difficulty with (in all the bio courses I've taken in undergrad and grad school, I never experienced such time pressure that students do on the AP exam and I never encountered so many instances where a single multiple choice question is one full page long and must be answered in less than 1.5 minutes).
Since my AP class exams are composed of AP-style questions (many of which are tricky), they are very challenging and kids have to put a tremendous amount of studying for the exams. My CC students couldn't handle those questions, so I make those exams more straight forward. I wouldn't describe the CC tests as being watered down so much as not being as overly rigorous as the AP exams. (I will admit to watering down Bio for non-majors as they sadly can't handle much more than I do with my 9th grade HS bio classes.)
To add some context, I teach in a big city with a lot of poverty and many kids who can't read or write, struggle to calculate a percent, and have never heard of a lot of the animals we discuss in biology in both the HS and the CC. The difference is that I can be selective about who I let into my AP class. Despite being required to pass remedial English before taking CC bio, the CC students are coming in with so many gaps. What's worse is that those who have been taking CC classes for a semester or two before still have no idea how to be a student (at least in a science class). I'm always amazed by how many of those who haven't taken a science class before walk in with a 4.0 only to struggle to get a C in my class.
Furthermore, AP students seem to understand how their grade is calculated, but CC students seem to expect grade inflation. Last week, a CC student asked me if I am a fair grader. When I asked what her definition of "fair grader" is, she replied "If I get B's on all the tests, you'll give me an A". My experience is that this kind of thinking is routine at a CC (that being said, I see far less grade inflation in my department than in the nonsciences, but that is what students come to expect). Yes, there are many many many HS kids with no skills and no concept of what is required to succeed academically, but few if any will show up in my AP class.
Of course, this may have had something to do with the fact that at the time, Kansas State and University of Kansas were required by law to accept anyone who had graduated from a Kansas high school. The rumor was, since they couldn't really accommodate that many students, they set up Freshman Composition as a "weed out class," and indeed, the retention rate after freshman year was about 50% at the time.
So it became part of the culture in "good" high schools (I think of this whenever someone mentions "privilege") for students to get their freshman comp credit from the local C.C. before graduating. I can't recall whether this was normally done via dual credit (I remember we did have some dual credit classes) or whether people were actually enrolling and taking it at the community college campus, which was nearby. I think both, depending on scheduling needs.
Now, those who weren't planning on going to the state schools didn't have exactly the same motivation, and some took the AP English exam (including me.) But getting C.C. credit was such a normal part of the high school experience that people thought nothing of taking other classes that way. I personally went over to the local community college in the evenings for Intro to Computer Programming, just because I didn't like our school's computer science teacher. I think other people I knew did similar things -- taking Spanish after maxing out the high school's Spanish curriculum, taking intro engineering classes again to avoid a "weed out" class, or trying to bank credits so that they could study abroad or do a dual major and still graduate in four years... Or just do one major and graduate in three, thus saving 25% on their tuition bill.
It would never have occurred to me at the time that there would be any kind of stigma against having community college credits when it came time to apply to fancy colleges. I ended up at a little no-name liberal arts college with a good scholarship, but my friends who went to Stanford and Princeton didn't seem to see it as an issue either.
The "dual enrollement" stuff worked both ways; many community college classes counted for high school credit, and people could thus use it to move some of their high school classes to timeslots outside of the normal school day, or during the summer, and I think be done with school by lunch time some semesters, or even do early graduation from the high school in a few cases. That was another big part of the appeal too.
I don't think it had anything to do with the C.C., but I even took "health" as an online class for high school credit, back in those very early days of online classes. I'm sure these days students would love the opportunity to get high school credit for online classes offered through the C.C.
So even if you were applying to a college which wouldn't accept your C.C. credits (so that credit banking and skipping weed-out classes didn't work), there could still be some big advantages in terms of your high school experience, to having taken classes there.
I have no idea what the scene is like with today's increase in dual-credit. You're absolutely right that the signal is different. I seriously doubt that it's a negative though.
It gave me a lot of insight into a familiar issue: reading skills and vocabulary. Where I teach, that shows up as often in non-native speakers (some have English as a third language) as native ones, but mostly shows up in the lab.
I am only familiar with the new AP Physics curriculum and its approach to testing the skills and concepts considered important for credit in a trig-based physics class, where the long questions concern lab situations rather than "problems". I think it matches or exceeds the difficulty of that pre-med physics class at universities and colleges, as it should when it takes two calendar years to do 30 weeks of physics. The old version created some challenging problems because it gave us students who cruised through the first semester of real physics (they already knew 80% of it) and then struggled big time in the second semester because they hadn't learned any study skills. Albeit indirect, I see similar problems with one semester of AP calculus.
Agree 100% on the non-majors classes, but universities do the same thing. What else can you do with 1000 students in a bio lecture?
Ditto for the non-science parts of the college creating problems for the ones that still insist on rigor and haven't inflated grades since Vietnam ended.
However, I'm really grateful to have been dually enrolled. There were only a very limited number of AP courses at my HS at the time (Calculus, Physics, and English), and they were only available senior year. I started taking college classes my jr year, and I got to take a much wider range of courses than my friends who stayed: Middle East History and Politics, Differential Equations, Linguistics, Astronomy, in addition to all the usual English/US History/Calculus/Physics.