AP classes put college-bound students on fast track

Kari Andren
| Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

When Alexandra Piampiano first stepped onto the campus of St. Vincent College in the fall, she was considered an upperclassman.

Piampiano earned 24 college credits in subjects ranging from psychology to world history through Advanced Placement exams she took in high school in Webster, N.Y.

Piampiano is one of 10 first-year students who entered St. Vincent as sophomores. The students, part of an incoming class of 450, earned between 23 and 47 credits through AP exams, programs offering college courses in high school or a combination of the two, school officials said.

“It was very chaotic (in high school), but it definitely taught me how to manage my time,” said Piampiano, 18, who played soccer and lacrosse and worked two jobs. She said she's studying biology at the college in Unity in hopes of becoming a pediatrician.

“I think it definitely helped to make (the transition) easier,” she said.

A growing number of high school students are earning advanced standing by pushing themselves with heavy course loads, because they enjoy the challenge of college-level work or to give themselves a leg up in college, even if that doesn't translate to an early graduation.

“The number of students coming in with college credits ... seems to be increasing every year,” said Michael Poll, vice president for enrollment management at Seton Hill University in Greensburg. Four of the university's 330 incoming students entered with sophomore standing this year, he said.

“Traditionally, it was predominantly AP courses with a scattering of dual enrollment. Now it's even,” Poll said.

Dual-enrollment programs typically allow a high school student to attend a college course on campus or take the class from a college professor at their high school. College in High School programs let students earn college credits for the same high school class they're taking with the high school teacher and coursework approved by the university, officials said.

High school students who earned credits through dual-enrollment programs with community colleges grew about 21 percent from the 2007-08 school year to 2012-13, according to the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges.

Adam Andresen, 18, of Steubenville, Ohio, earned 33 college credits in high school through programs with Eastern Gateway Community College and Franciscan University.

Andresen, who started this fall at California University of Pennsylvania with sophomore standing, is majoring in meteorology.

The Washington County school had six students begin as sophomores out of 1,026 incoming students, said spokeswoman Wendy Mackall.

Andresen said his high school classes were mostly laid out for him through the gifted program. He said he didn't consider how or if those credits would transfer to college.

“It (played) maybe a 1 percent role; it was a really minute detail,” Andresen said. “I looked at the strength of (a college's) program, the distance from home, and it did come down to cost for me.”

Cal U offered the right balance, he said. But he doubts he'll be able to graduate early because of when required courses are offered in his major.

It's not uncommon for students with advanced standing to need four years to graduate, said Karen Ferrick-Roman, spokeswoman for Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

“The kids who come in with those credits, often, they are the ones who are interested in other academic enrichments ... who would pick multiple internships, double majors or other academic activities,” Ferrick-Roman said.

She said Duquesne averages 10 to 20 students annually who enter with sophomore standing.

A proposal before state lawmakers would require public colleges and universities to agree on uniform guidelines for accepting credits, not only from AP exams, but also from International Baccalaureate or College-Level Examination Program exams, which are less common in Pennsylvania.

Michael Giazzoni, director of the College in High School program at the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland, said credits earned through a program like his transfer at a higher rate than the other courses.

And although AP exams cost just $91, even College in High School courses are a bargain — $225 each — over taking the same class on Pitt's campus, which costs roughly $700 per credit, he said.

Jessica Schneider, 19, an electrical engineering major at Pitt, took the university's Calculus 2 class in high school along with 30 AP credits. She entered Pitt with sophomore standing last fall and is considered a junior.

Schneider said her parents saw the financial benefits of potentially paying for fewer semesters of tuition, but she will likely graduate a semester early, at most. She said the advanced credits gave her more free time to explore clubs such as the Robotics and Automation Society and the Engineering Student Council.

“For me, the motivation back then wasn't really that I'll get ahead,” Schneider said. “I just liked challenging courses, and my interests vary a lot.”

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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