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Advanced Placement Credit: A Double Edged Sword In Engineering Education

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

FPD6 -- Early Intervention & Retention Programs

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.185.1 - 12.185.11



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Paper Authors


Catherine Pieronek University of Notre Dame

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Catherine Pieronek is Director of Academic Affairs and Women's Engineering Program at the University of Notre Dame College of Engineering. She earned her B.S. in Aerospace Engineering and her J.D. from the University of Notre Dame, and her M.S. in Aerospace Engineering from UCLA. Her work experience includes eight years as a systems engineer with TRW Space & Defense Sector, working on NASA spacecraft projects.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Advanced Placement Credit: A Double-Edged Sword


Recent reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere have raised questions about what Advanced Placement (AP) courses and credits signify about the academic qualifications of students who have taken AP classes and of those who have scored high enough on the AP exam to qualify for college credit. Some research has questioned whether students who receive AP credit for introductory courses actually have appropriate knowledge to move into more advanced courses as first-year students. But in an engineering curriculum packed with required classes, AP credit gives students a good opportunity to free up space in their schedules, enabling them to take lighter loads or to pursue other academic interests and broaden their educational experiences. Such curricular flexibility could make engineering a more appealing course of study for groups not traditionally attracted to the field in large numbers, particularly women. Yet, because some students lack access to AP programs in their high schools, the practice of awarding AP credit could further exacerbate the achievement gap between certain identifiable groups of students, such as between under-represented minority students and others, and could affect the persistence of those students who come to college without having experienced a more challenging high school curriculum.

This paper examines the experience with AP credit among engineering students at the University of Notre Dame. The paper presents data gathered on the performance of students in Calculus III, the third mathematics class in the engineering sequence, comparing students who received AP credit for Calculus I and II with students who actually took Calculus I and II at the University. It also presents data that indicate a clear performance difference in first-year classes between students with significant AP credit versus students with little or no AP credit, and includes demographic breakdowns that indicate that certain subgroups of students, even strong students admitted to a highly selective university like Notre Dame, remain disadvantaged as they enter college because of a lack of access to AP courses in their high schools. The paper concludes with some observations about what AP credit can indicate about individual students and groups of students, and with some suggestions for the role of AP credit in engineering education.


“AP can change your life. Through college-level AP courses, you enter a universe of knowledge that might otherwise remain unexplored in high school; through AP Exams, you have the opportunity to earn credit or advanced standing at most of the nation’s colleges and universities.”1 So begins the pitch on the College Board’s web site, extolling the benefits of Advanced Placement (AP) courses, exams and credit. Yet several recent studies reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere have questioned this very premise, asking what AP courses actually reveal about a student’s preparation for college-level work.

Studies conducted under the auspices of the College Board have attempted to answer the question of whether AP exams “are a reliable equivalent to first-year college examinations.”2

Pieronek, C. (2007, June), Advanced Placement Credit: A Double Edged Sword In Engineering Education Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1920

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