College Guide


January 18, 2013 4:17 PM Dartmouth to Stop Giving Credit for Advanced Placement Courses

By Daniel Luzer

Starting next year Dartmouth College will not allow incoming students to use Advanced Placement credits to earn academic credit toward a degree. According to a piece at Inside Higher Ed:

Advanced Placement courses might cover college-level content, but Dartmouth College has decided that’s not the same as taking a college course. So beginning with the class of 2018, the college will no longer grant credit based on its students’ AP test scores in high school.
Currently, students who enter Dartmouth with scores of four or five on the AP test, which is based on a five-point scale, can earn exemption from certain courses, placement into higher-level courses, or credit toward their degrees. (The exact reward for a high AP test score varies by department.) When the new policy takes effect, students will still be able to place out of an introductory level course or be exempted from certain requirements, but they will not be awarded any credits toward graduation. The policy was proposed by the college’s Committee on Instruction, and passed by an “overwhelming majority” of the faculty, says Hakan Tell, the committee’s chair.

This comes after the school ran an experiment in the psychology department with students who had earned five on the AP psychology test. Researchers had the students take the final examination for its Introduction to Psychology course and found that 90 percent failed.

Such research is not necessarily generalizable to Dartmouth courses or the AP program in general (perhaps the AP psychology test just isn’t that rigorous; that doesn’t mean the same is true for French or Calculus or biology) but it did lead the school to question how awarding credit works. Still, Dartmouth maintains that the AP program is valuable. As Tell put it:

We are not trying to discredit AP. That’s not the point. We think it’s still extremely useful and valuable for students to take in high school. We just don’t want to foster the idea in high school students that it is comparable to a college course.

Well yes, but it sort of does discredit the AP program, since it is designed specifically to be comparable to a college courses and allow students to gain college credit while still in high school.

Over time, however, AP has essentially developed into a sorting mechanism for college admissions. High school students take a lot of AP courses so they look impressive to colleges. Colleges, unsurprisingly, have discovered that AP credits don’t really indicate any particularly advanced mastery of collegiate level work but, rather, just mean the high school students are smart and hard working.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Walker on January 18, 2013 6:10 PM:

    The value of AP courses has dropped precipitously over the years. 20 years ago you could grant a semesters credit for a 3 on the Calculus BC (and Dartmouth did). Now anything less than a 5 is worthless. Some of this is the sophistication of teaching to the test in HS; some of it is advancement at the college level.

  • ceilidth on January 19, 2013 1:10 PM:

    It might also be that if you award credit for AP courses, you will get less money in tuition. That might also be why you would choose to let students take more advanced courses but not award credit. I find myself wondering if the students who earned good grades on the AP test but failed the final in the intro psych course are passing the more advanced courses. My bet is that they are and that not awarding credit is a whole lot more about more income than it is about anything else.

  • Walker on January 19, 2013 5:45 PM:

    My bet is that they are and that not awarding credit is a whole lot more about more income than it is about anything else.

    A school like Dartmouth woud never make a decision like this based on tuition; it would not make any financial sense.

    An overwhelming majority graduate in 4 years: neither early nor late. The primary exception is students specifically enrolled in a 5 year cross-disciplinary program. To have otherwise would hurt their ranking, which is far more important to them. Students also regularly take a standard course load, so that has no effect either.

    The only thing that sizably effects income for a school like this is the way financial aid is distributed.

    There might be some internal head count politics going on (department resources are partly determined by the number of students taking classes in that department). But university wide that is a zero-sum game.

  • ceilidth on January 20, 2013 1:38 PM:

    A "school like Dartmouth would never make a decision like this based on tuition." Why not? All universities depend on tuition for income. Dartmouth is no different. There "might be internal head count politics going on." I taught at several universities over a 35 year career in higher ed and internal head count politics are major. How many student credit hours your program generates has a major impact on how much money your program gets. If you have a major that doesn't generate enough students, the easiest way to generate credit hours is by having some of your courses designated as general ed requirements. If you award credits for AP courses, you lose those credit hours.