Pros and cons of AP and concurrent enrollment coursesFeb 05, 2024 03:08PM ● By Jet Burnham
In 2023, Utah students took 45,308 advanced placement exams and 9,000 Salt Lake area high school students took concurrent enrollment college courses. (Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash)
Taking college-level advanced placement and concurrent enrollment courses is a popular choice for high school students. In 2023, Utah students took 45,308 advanced placement exams and 9,000 Salt Lake area high school students took concurrent enrollment college courses. Jordan District had a total of 3,354 enrollments, with 1,523, the most of any school in the valley, at Copper Hills High School.
Two of the main draws for taking college courses during high school is that students get a head start on a college degree and they can save a lot of money.
According to Collegeboard.org, the average college course at an in-state public university costs $1,100 ($2,700 for out-of-state.) In comparison, the cost of an AP course is $100, and the cost of a CE class is $5 per credit ($15-20 per class).
Mountain Ridge High School Counselor John Blodgett said while it is a cheap price for credits, taking more college level classes isn’t always a good deal.
“Sometimes when I have a parent in my office, they're looking at the dollar sign,” he said. “They say, ‘Okay, we're going to sign up for six concurrent enrollment classes’ and students may not be quite at that level to handle that many credits.”
Some parents and students assume that because they did well in honors classes in middle school, students can handle the rigor of a college course. Blodgett said honors classes can help prepare students for future AP/CE classes, but others struggle with the course content and pace so that they earn a lower grade, lowering their GPA and their chances for academic scholarships.
“I see a lot of incoming sophomores that think AP is just like an honors class, but it’s harder than they think,” Blodgett said. “I'm just straight up honest with them about what they're going to see in this class: It is not going to be easy. You’ll have extra homework. You're held accountable to more things. The teacher can’t just go back and reteach things the same way. They've got a curriculum, they've got to move on. The grade is on your college transcript. It's going to follow you forever.”
Some students realize after one college-level course that it is too difficult, they don’t have the time to keep up with the work or they want to protect their GPA. Others continue to take multiple college courses over the four years of high school.
“They start to learn about themselves and what they can handle and what they can’t,” Blodgett said. “It helps them learn how to time manage—trying to handle a 10-hour a week job plus two CE and an AP—that’s a lot to handle. Sometimes you don't know how to do it unless you push yourself.”
Blodgett said students who take challenging classes in high school are better prepared for college.
“I encourage kids to try AP, concurrent enrollment or honors,” he said. “Those are more academically challenging them for a transition into college. They're going to be more successful if they've been pushed, if they've had that experience in high school. It makes that transition so much easier than a kid who hasn't challenged themselves and hasn't tried to see what they're capable of. I view that as a stronger benefit, more than just earning the college credit.”
Blodgett said there used to be a trend among high-achieving students to take as many college level courses as they could, some attempting to earn an associate degree along with their high school diploma. However, this led to the problem of elective baggage, credits students earned taking random college courses which didn't count toward their degree or certificate.
While serving on the Concurrent Enrollment Advisory Committee at SLCC, Blodgett helped revamp the system for credit transfers to eliminate this problem. Now, instead of trying to earn an associate degree, high school students can take fewer college credit hours to earn a General Certificate of Completion, which packages general education credits into a one year certificate that transfers seamlessly to all Utah colleges and universities.
“It just helps them focus their energy on what they need and helps target a path to what they are interested in going into,” Blodgett said. “Sometimes kids are just taking credit to take credit, and this program helps us identify the specific needs for any major that they're going into.”
Less than 2% of MRHS students are working for the general certificate of completion this year, but 36% of students are taking at least one college-level course (not including courses taken through JATC).
Pursuing advanced classes is part of the culture at Copper Hills High School, the school’s CTE Coordinator Kristy Yeschick said. Last year, 70% of CHHS graduating seniors had taken at least one CE or AP course.
“We are known as an academic-minded school,” Yeschick said. “Because of this mentality, we have always had one of the highest enrollments in the area for concurrent enrollment. Parents and students both enjoy taking college general education classes for $5 per credit hour. It helps the students see they can take a college class and be successful.”
SLCC Director of Concurrent Enrollment Brandon Kowallis said taking college courses while in high school is ideal because students have access to a “robust support system.”
“In the high school, if a student starts to struggle, counselors are going to reach out, teachers are going to reach out, and they're going to support them,” Kowallis said. “On our campus, there is none of that support. The student is considered an adult. They're responsible for how they do in the class, and there's not as much intervention if they start to struggle.”
CE classes also have a later drop-deadline than on-campus courses.
Students typically take CE classes at their high school, but SLCC also offers on-campus concurrent enrollment classes. This provides students with a wider selection of course offerings—ideal for students at smaller schools—as well as a taste of what college is like.
“Concurrent on-campus is a chance for students to get the full 100% authentic college experience,” Kowallis said. “It's great for them to make a connection on campus with adults and students from different backgrounds. And it's nice to help them to feel comfortable on a college campus so that when they graduate from high school, they sort of know what they're in for.”
Blodgett encourages students to be familiar with the pros and cons of AP and CE courses when making class schedule decisions.
“I can’t tell a kid what’s best,” he said. “I just give them the information. I can give them advice. But everyone is unique in their own path and their choices are personal to them.” λ