Cuts Threaten Access to College Placement Tests
Published: March 17, 2012
Because of a federal budget cut, thousands of low-income students across the nation may not be able to afford the fees for their Advanced Placement exams this spring — exams that could save them thousands of dollars in college tuition.
As part of the federal budget agreement last December, Congress cut federal financing for programs that offer advanced high school courses to slightly under $27 million, from $43 million the previous year, with only about $20 million to be used to subsidize low-income students’ exam fees. So, in recent weeks, state education officials have been notifying high schools that low-income students, who have for decades been eligible for fee waivers, will have to pay $15 for each of the first three exams they take, and $53 per exam for any beyond that.
A.P. exams, given in May, cost $87 apiece, and many schools are now in the process of collecting registrations and fees.
At Classical High School in Providence, R.I., where 70 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, Louis Toro, the Advanced Placement coordinator, said that some students who had expected to take four or five A.P. exams were cutting back to three.
“Just this morning, I had a girl tell me, ‘Mr. Toro, I’ve chosen my three A.P.’s,’ and I told her I’d order those three, and we’ll try find a way to pay for the others,” he said. “I’m getting calls from parents who don’t understand. I explain that it’s not a school issue, it’s not a district issue, it’s a Washington issue.”
Trevor Packer, the College Board official in charge of the A.P. program, estimates that because of the fee increases, about 337,000 low-income students will take A.P. exams in May — 29,000 students fewer than projected. Also, he said, fewer low-income students will take multiple exams, leading to a decline of about 47,000 exams.
Some states, districts and schools will pick up the full test fees for low-income students. But Mr. Packer worries that the budget cuts will mean fewer low-income students earning college credit for advanced high school courses.
At a Congressional briefing where the cuts were announced, he said, “it just happened that an A.P. teacher had brought some students from the Baltimore City schools, all African-American, all low-income. When they heard about the cuts, they went crazy, saying, ‘My family’s not planning on coming up with extra money for me to take the exams.’ ”
The cuts hit even harder for students in the International Baccalaureate program, which also offers college-level work.
The I.B. charges $100 per exam, plus a $145 onetime registration fee. For a full I.B. diploma, which may earn a semester or year of college credit, students must pass six exams, for a total cost of $745. But this year, the government will pay only $38 toward the registration fee, plus $38 for each of the first two exams.
The fees for the May I.B. exams were due in November, with schools that pay for low-income students getting reimbursement over the summer.
“We paid $10,000, and if we don’t get reimbursed, the money would have to come from somewhere else in our very limited school budget,” said Teresa Atwill, the I.B. coordinator at Newport High School in Oregon, where almost half the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. International Baccalaureate program credits saved one recent graduate $7,500 in her first year at Oregon State, Ms. Atwill said.
Chris Wilder, the I.B. coordinator at Mount Rainier High School, in Des Moines, Wash., said his reimbursement would come up about $7,000 short this year.
“I know they’re trying to balance the budget but unfortunately, this falls on the back of the people who can least afford it,” Mr. Wilder said. “This year, the district’s going to eat the money, and not charge the kids, but I don’t know what happens next year.”
A version of this article appeared in print on March 17, 2012, on page A11 of the New York edition with the headline: Budget Cuts Threaten Access To College Placement Tests.
Direct link to article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/17/education/budget-cuts-threaten-access-to-college-placement-tests.html?_r=2