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AP classes save families money, but jury still out for taxpayers



For a decade, Florida has gone gangbusters with Advanced Placement, pouring students and money into the college-caliber, high school courses that some say are a good way to prepare "average" students for higher education.

Florida ranks No. 1 in the percentage of graduating seniors taking the standardized AP tests, No. 5 in the percentage of seniors passing them, No. 3 in the number of tests taken. The state -- one of only three that picks up the $86 tab for every test -- has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on AP. And increasingly, its approach is under scrutiny as stories erupt about students with limited reading skill trying to wrap their brains around, say, the rise and fall of Robespierre.

Read the full story on AP classes in Florida, then take a look at how the Times estimated the savings on Advanced Placement classes:

To roughly estimate savings for families and taxpayers, the St. Petersburg Times first figured out how many college credits would potentially be generated in Florida by the number of AP tests passed this year. To do that, we looked at the latest AP results, subject by subject (114,430 passed AP tests in all) and matched them to what the state says they are required to generate in credits at Florida’s public universities and state colleges.

The result: 439,957 credits.

To estimate savings for families we used a figure of $137.50 per credit hour. Here’s why:

The average cost for in-state, undergraduate tuition and fees at a Florida public university is about $160 per credit hour this year. The average cost for tuition and fees at a Florida state college (formerly community college) was about $85 per credit hour last year, which is the most up-to-date figure available. Florida Department of Education figures show about 70 percent of AP test passers who go on to Florida public postsecondary institutions go to state universities, and about 30 percent go to state colleges. We pro-rated the per-credit-hour cost based on that breakdown.

It’s not clear what percentage of AP test passers go on to college, so we took a leap: 90 percent.

We also assumed that 73 percent of the passed AP tests would actually result in credits.

Many passed tests do not result in credits. Some students don’t submit their exam records to the college or university they’re going to. Some exams result in the same credit (like AP English Literature and Composition and AP English Language and Composition). And some AP test passers still take the college course they could have exempted either to learn the material better or get a good grade in college or both. A 2009 report from the Legislature’s highly-respected research arm (the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability, better known as OPPAGA) found 73 percent of passed AP exams resulted in credits in Florida universities and colleges.

So, to spell out the calculation explicitly, we multiplied the number of total credits (439,957) by the percentage going to college (90 percent), then by the percentage of credits that are actually redeemed (73 percent), then by the pro-rated cost of tuition and fees in Florida ($137.50). With those assumptions, the savings for Florida families comes to about $39.7 million.

Some caveats: Many Florida students, of course, choose to attend private colleges in Florida or colleges outside of Florida. While most colleges offer credits for passed AP tests, it’s unclear whether they would grant more or less credits per test. It is likely, though, that in many cases the cost per credit hour would be higher than it is at a public college in Florida, where the costs for public higher education are relatively low.

To estimate savings for taxpayers the Times used a different set of figures. Tuition does not cover the full cost of public higher education in Florida. Beyond tuition, the state pays about $146 per credit hour at universities and about $107 per credit hour at state colleges. For our calculation, we used a pro-rated figure of $134 per credit hour.

We again assumed that 73 percent of the passed AP tests would result in credits. We also assumed that 70 percent of AP test passers would go on to attend a public university or state college in Florida. An estimate from a 2006 OPPAGA report was slightly lower. A fresh estimate from the Florida Department of Education was slightly higher.

To spell out this second calculation explicitly, we multiplied the total number of credits (439,957) by the percentage going to college in Florida (70 percent), then by the percentage of credits actually redeemed (73 percent), then by the pro-rated cost to the state for each credit hour ($134). The end result: About $30.1 million.

[Last modified: Saturday, November 20, 2010 9:08pm]


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