JEFFERSON CITY — Kurt Gates was explaining to his AP Government and Politics class at Liberty North High School how Advanced Placement exam credit worked, saying each school in Missouri had its own policies. He added that other states had a uniform AP credit policy, where a score of 3 or higher (out of 5) guaranteed credit at public higher education institutions.

A student asked, “Why not Missouri?”

That led to the class doing a year of researching; examining other states; reaching out to the College Board, which administers the AP exams; drafting their own version of a bill; and contacting their state representative.

On Monday, their legislation, sponsored by state Reps. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka, and Mark Ellebracht, D-Liberty, had its first public hearing, with the class of at least 15 students in attendance. It’s the first student-initiated AP credit policy in the nation, according to Gates.

The proposed law differs from many universities’ current AP policies, including that of the University of Missouri. Many of the exam scores in social science and history, for example, need to be at least a 4 in order for MU to grant college credit. As of now, colleges decide for themselves what AP scores are acceptable.

The main goal of the legislation is to increase the accessibility and affordability of higher education. High school students across the nation take AP courses and exams to not only make college applications more attractive but also to attain college credit, which then decreases the amount of classes in college (and tuition) needed to get a degree.

“Students will be more likely to be retained,” added Ellebracht. “When a student starts at an advanced place in college, they’re more likely to re-enroll in the following semester and the following year after that.”

According to data from the College Board, which administers AP exams, Missouri students took 47,277 AP exams in 2019 and 63% of those exams received a score of 3 or higher. Only around 36% of exams were scored 4 or higher. Therefore, under the proposed law, colleges that currently have stricter AP score minimums — requiring a 4 or higher — would have counted nearly 13,000 more exams for credit.

The anticipation is that with the knowledge that college credit can be more easily attained, more students will enroll in AP courses and high schools will offer more advanced course options. In addition, “it helps us level the playing field to attract more students here” in Missouri, Bailey said.

That “playing field” is the fact that 31 other states already have such a system as of 2019, according to College Board, including Arkansas, Illinois and Kansas. Missouri students who only have a score of 3 may look to those neighboring states instead to get the college credit they need.

No one testified in opposition to the bill, but lawmakers and higher education representatives did express some reservations.

Paul Wagner, executive director of the Council on Public Higher Education, which includes MU, had some hesitation about the part where a score of 3 or higher automatically means college credit. Instead, he wanted to emphasize the part of the proposal in which the Coordinating Board for Higher Education, with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, identifies correlations between the AP test and the content of the college course.

“We’re a lot more comfortable with that, saying, let’s sit down and see: Where does the content of the test match to the content of the courses taught in our colleges campuses?” Wagner said. “That’s different than just saying ‘Thou shall award credit for a 3.’ You kind of need to go one way or another on that.”

In addition, there was disagreement on how much revenue universities would lose, as students with the correlating AP credit would be able to forgo paying tuition for the required classes. According to the bill’s fiscal note, the UM system is estimating a negative fiscal impact in excess of $100,000.

Proponents pointed out how other universities in states that have implemented the policy, however, have not seen any decrease in revenue, partly because more students are being retained.

Ultimately, Wagner stressed he wants to see the bill move forward and supports the idea of uniformity, but wants to make sure the higher education institutions’ input is included.

“Not everything is always just about money,” he said about the potential tuition loss. “It’s about about how we best serve students. If we’re doing our best by serving Missouri students, then things are going to work out.”

  • Titus was a state government reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor at the Missourian.

  • Mark Horvit is the state government editor. Call me at 817-726-1621 with story ideas, tips or complaints.

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