News Column

AP Incentive Program Benefits Hispanic Students

July 1, 2013

For most high school students, the chance to make money comes by working a job after school. But for 18-year-old Ralph Alvarez of Texas, the chance to earn a paycheck came in class during school hours.

Alvarez earned four $100 checks by participating in the Advanced Placement Incentive Program (APIP), a $60 million national initiative that serves 300,000 students annually and which research has shown Lo be associated with higher rales of college degree attainment and increased wages, particularly for Hispanic students.

Through the program, students can earn $100 for a passing score on the Advanced Placement exams administered by the College Board.

Alvarez, a graduating senior at R.L. Turner High School in the CarrolltouFarmers Branch Independent School District in Texas, earned $400 by scoring a 3 or belter on lour different AP exams during his junior year. The exams included exams in physics, calculus and history. At the time he was interviewed for this article, Alvarez had plans to take several more AP exams before the end of this senior year, thus potentially earning another several hundred dollars.

Alvarez said he would have taken the AP courses and exams regardless of whether he got paid.

"The $100 was just a cherry on top," Alvarez told The Hispanic Outlook during an interview. "Getting a 5 on the exam is an investment."

Indeed, students who score well on AP exams often qualify for college credit, which thereby saves the students time and money when they go to college. The extra $100 that students earn in the APIP for every passing score on an AP exam helps cut college costs, too.

For instance, Alvarez - who has an offer to attend the University of Texas (FT) -Austin and was anticipating offers from several other universities - said he planned, to use the money to buy books for Ins college courses. He said he plans to study architectural engineering, a subject that captured his interest when he became impressed with the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, during the NBA All-Star Game of 2010.

Alvarez's story represents just one of a myriad of high school students' college dreams that are coming true thanks in no small part to the APIP. Education leaders say that AP courses help boost a student's chance of getting inlo college.

"When colleges see that students took an AP course, Uiat's the number one factor that stands out for admission," said Gern1 Charlebois, executive director of advanced academic services at the Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD.

"They [colleges] want to know that [students] have been taking the most rigorous courses they can take and have been successful," Charlebois said.

Indeed, grades in college-prep classes have long been a top factor in college admissions decisions, With about 80 percent of colleges rating thie college-prep course grades as "considerably important" in the decisions, according to a National Association for College Admission Counseling report titled 2012 State of College Admission.

In Texas, over 25,000 students at 69 high schools are enrolled in APIP. About one-fourth of the cost of the program is funded locally, and the average cost per school is $100,000. according to Charlotte Carlisle, president of Advanced Placement Strategies Inc., which oversees the APIP program in Texas as part of its National Math + Science Initiative.

The Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD has had the APIP since 2002.

Fred Hurst, Alvarez's AP physics teacher at R.I. Turner High School, said the program has changed the academic culture of the school.

"When I first started. I might have a class of maybe 15 kids, and now I have two classes of around 50," Hurst said of his AP physics course. "It's just opened up the amount of kids who take AP."

Charlebois shared similar thoughts.

"I see the AP program as such a strength," Charlebois said.. "The success we've had has been exponential."

Indeed, at R.I. Turner High School, a predominantly Hispanic high school just outside of Dallas, 658 students took AP Exams in math, science and English in 2012, a dramatic increase from the 370 who had taken the exams in the prior year, according to figures provided by Charlebois.

Of the AP test takers last year, 228 scored 3 or better - a passing score. That's twice as many as the 124 who achieved passing scores the year before.

Hurst refers lo Al' classes as "a great equalizer,"

"What I love about AP is when a kid is taking a lest, it doesn't matter what walk of life you come from," Hurst said. "A 4 is a 4, a 5 is a 5, a 3 is a 3 regardless of where you live or what your dad does for a living."

But achieving the passing scores is not an easy feat.

"The AP course definitely requires more time," Alvarez said. "We get homework way more often than non-AP students. But one of the things about Al1 classes is 1 have to apply myself more to grasp the material."

Students also have to pay to lake the exams, although students in APIP program at R.L. Turner Iligh School - where roughly two-thirds of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch - get to take the exams at a discounted rate of about $20. according to Charlebois.

The extra work and the investment evidently pay off.

According lo a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper tilled Do College-Prep Programs Improve Ijong-Term Outcomes?, the APIP increases college attendance by an average of 4.2 percent and wage earnings by at least 2. 7 percent.

Hispanic students who participated in the program experienced a 2.5 percentage point increase in college degree attainment, and an 11 percent increase in earnings, according to the paper by Northwestern University labor economist C. Kirabo Jackson.

"The APIP led to larger improvements m educational attainment and earnings for Hispanic students (the group with die lowest baseline college attendance rates) than for white and black students," Jackson said in the paper.

"These findings suggest that, in addition to reducing ethnic gaps within schools, because the program was targeted to inner-city schools with low shares of high income and white students, the program also helped to reduce educational and. earnings gaps overall," Jackson said in the paper. "The earnings increases associated with the APIP for Hispanic and black students are large enough to reduce the black-white earnings gap by one-third and to eliminate the Hispanicwhite earnings gap entirely."

Jackson expounded on the long-term financial benefits of die program.

He noted that the total cost of the program is roughly $225 per high school junior and senior, and thus $450 per student since most students are exposed to the program for two years.

Once in the world of work, those who would have otherwise earned $25,000 per year earn an additional S925 per year.

"This would imply a lifetime benefit of the APIP of S 16,650 and a benefit-to-cost ratio of 37 to 1." Jackson states in Ills paper. "With higher baseline earnings, this ratio would be even higher."

He said the findings imply that ;'it might be possible to enhance outcomes by impnmng both students' and teachers' decision making and increasing access to well-taught rigorous courses."

Jackson said his study is groundbreaking because while recent evidence has shown dial moving students from low-performing schools lo high-performing schools can improve student outcomes, very little evidence has shown that students' long-run outcomes can be improved by adopting a program at their current schools.

"Because there has been little credible evidence on die efficacy of collegeprep programs despite large public and private expenditure on such programs, (he results of this study are encouraging abotit the potential efficacy of college-preparatory programs at improving the educational outcomes of disadvantaged students who are consigned to inner-city schools," Jackson states.

Source: Copyright Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, The

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