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More NC students are taking high school classes for college credit than ever before

Student in a high school math class. Students of color. Classroom.
Allison Shelley
The Verbatim Age for EDU images

More North Carolina high school students are taking an advanced placement class for college credit this school year than any year before. At the same time, a greater share of students of color are also participating in and succeeding in these classes.

High school students can earn college credit by taking AP classes if they receive a qualifying score on a standardized exam for the course that’s administered by the nonprofit organization The College Board.

The State Board of Education heard an annual report on AP classes at their regular board meeting this week.

“We’re so proud that we have not only recovered in the number of students accessing and succeeding in AP courses since the pandemic, but also surpassed our pre-pandemic levels,” said Sneha Shah Coltrane, director of Advanced Learning and Gifted Education at the Department of Public Instruction.

This school year, more than 93,000 North Carolina students are enrolled in at least one AP course — the highest number on record. That represents a nearly 25% increase in enrollment in these courses in the past decade.

Black and Latino students in North Carolina are taking and passing a greater number of AP exams. Last year, the rate of students taking the exams grew by nearly 15% for Black students and nearly 21% for Latino students. Those growth rates outpaced national growth for those subgroups of students.

That’s closing the equity gap between students of different races and ethnicities, as there is a rising percentage of Black and Latino students in the state who earn a score that qualifies for college credit. It's now almost on par with national rates.

“We still are not at the same numbers as some of our peer states, but we definitely are speeding up to close those gaps, and that’s what we want,” said Shah Coltrane, director of Advanced Learning and Gifted Education at the Department of Public Instruction.

Shah Coltrane said research shows that having access to these advanced classes improves students’ success in college, regardless of whether they receive a score on their exam that qualifies for college credit.

State education officials credited the state’s progress in part to a 2014 state law that sought to promote access to the courses. The law led the State Board of Education to partner with The College Board to provide professional development for teachers leading AP courses.

The General Assembly has also provided recurring annual funding to cover all students' final exam fees. About $14 million in state funds last year paid the fees for students’ final exams to receive credit for AP classes and other advanced courses.

“$14 million the state is investing in our students,” Shah Coltrane said. “Then it turns into access for college credit, but also … the experience of having a rigorous course.”

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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