NYC high schoolers have a variety of opportunities to take college classes in partnership with local universities. Photo: javier trueba on Unsplash

When I presented at Epicenter’s Demystifying NYC’s High School Admissions Process webinar, many parents were interested in what options their students had for taking college courses even before they’d earned a high school diploma. We consulted with parents, a student, a college counselor and a high school principal to break down everything families need to know.

Advanced Placement (AP) 

NYC Public Schools (formerly the Department of Education) asserts:

Advanced Placement (AP), a College Board program, was designed to increase college-and-career readiness and provide students with the opportunity to obtain college credit while enrolled in high school. AP students are better prepared for college, are more likely to enroll and stay in college, do well in their classes, and graduate in four years. The gains are greatest for low-income students and students of color, who have long been underrepresented in AP courses.

They promise: Many colleges and universities grant credit and placement for scores of 3, 4, or 5.

Families, however, have found that reality rarely matches sales pitch.

Isabella Goldmints, a mother of three, says that “many schools offer at least some AP’s in humanities, a few offers, AP calculus AB or AP biology or AP environmental science, but very, very few offer AP calculus BC which is a proper college level calculus or any AP in physical science (physics C or chemistry). There are either no classes offered by the school or they are at a very low level (AP physics 1 instead of AP physics C). Because of the proliferation of AP’s at lower and lower levels, many colleges either don’t accept some of them for credit or give general credits without fulfilling college requirements for specific subjects for taking and passing these lower-level AP classes.”

And the classes that are offered rarely meet college-level standards. Mom Ingrid Worthington shares that “parents like to brag about their kids taking AP classes, but who cares if the school offering the classes has a ridiculously low passing rate? A lot of teachers aren’t equipped to teach AP classes and, let’s be honest, the DOE is barely educating my sons, who are both at highly coveted screened schools. If the teachers aren’t getting core curriculum done correctly, how are they supposed to effectively teach a college-level course? Schools are trying so hard to get these kids to take AP classes that I’m convinced there’s an incentive involved either for the school or the DOE. Why else are schools trying to get students to take these classes when they know most kids are failing the test? I’d rather my sons take College Now classes, be taught by an actual college professor and get the credit for the class instead of being taught by a high school instructor who may be learning along with the student and isn’t preparing them for the exam.”

College Now

The City University of New York (CUNY) positions College Now as:

A free college transition/dual enrollment program for high school students. Successful College Now students can start their first semester in college with up to fifteen college credits – or, at minimum, begin college without remediation. On average, College Now alumni transfer more credits to CUNY (6.50 vs. 1.50), earn more credits in their first semester (11.10 vs. 8.50), and have a higher GPA after their first semester when compared to students who did not participate in the program. 

Student Gregory Wickham agrees that College Now is superior to AP classes by combining his own experience with hard data.

He reports:

In 2018, just over 50% of NYC public school students who took one or more AP exams passed at least one of the exams. That number goes down to 43% for Hispanic students and 26% for Black students. Both the DOE and the College Board know that nearly half of the NYC public school students taking an AP class will fail the exam. The DOE, instead of creating a system to help students succeed, is creating a system that encourages (in 2018) 26,438 students to pay to fail. This is certainly good news for the College Board, but is it good news for the students? In 2015, 45% of the College Board’s revenue came from AP exams and instruction materials. Since then, the number of students taking at least one AP exam has increased by a third. The number of students passing has increased by 28% meaning proportionally more students are failing than ever before. Students should not be paying the College Board to fail.

On the other hand:

Almost every undergraduate CUNY college offers College Now courses, and an extremely wide range of classes are offered. Some topics offered as College Now courses include sociology, anthropology, statistics, personal finance, journalism, and philosophy. It’s completely free to apply, and it doesn’t require any teacher recommendations, so there is nothing to lose, except about 10 minutes of your time. There are a few risks to consider. You will be taking a college course, you could fail, and if you do, that will likely be on your official CUNY transcript forever. (Although, you might be able to get it erased.) The courses will not impact your GPA in college, but any CUNY you apply to will definitely see your College Now grades. If you’re willing to take that risk, however, the benefits are significant. You can earn up to 15 credits through College Now, which is one full semester of college. The credits will apply at any CUNY as well as most colleges throughout the country. Being able to complete an entire semester of college for free will save you a lot of time and money in college.

Early College

Another way that NYC public school families can save money on college-level courses without enriching the College Board’s coffers is to opt for a high school where students are allowed to take college classes in partnership with local universities. 

Examples include Columbia Secondary School, Manhattan/Hunter Science High School, Kingsborough Early College School, Brooklyn College Academy, Queens School of Inquiry, Hostos-Lincoln Academy of Science and more

Georgia West Stacey, whose son attended Bard High School Early College reports, “He is now at Colorado College and they accepted all the college credits that were not fulfilling a high school requirement (which were a lot). As a result, he is able to graduate a semester early.”

Early College and Career Schools

In addition, these early college courses are not always academic. “P-Tech Schools” are affiliated with a CUNY college that lets high-schoolers take courses toward an associate degree at no cost to the student or the family. They also work with industry partners to support students in exploring careers and attaining professional skills and certifications.

Popular examples include Academy for Software Engineering, Bronx Design and Construction Academy, Academy of Finance/Financial Management, High School for Construction Trades, Engineering, and Architecture, Dental Laboratory/Technology Technical at Tottenville High School, and many, many others.

Erika Hurtado-Valentino, principal at Food and Finance High School, which is launching a brand new Early College Program in July, explains what students get from such a partnership:

“Students can graduate high school in four years, having completed the requirements for a NYS Regents Diploma and 35 college credits towards the AAS in hospitality management degree at CUNY City Tech, as well as a New York City Food Handlers or Serve Safe Certificate and NOCTI Hospitality Management Lodging Certificate. During their time at Food and Finance HS, they also complete a yearlong paid internship via the Food Education Fund (FEF).The remaining 27 credits can be completed in two semesters following graduation if students enroll at CUNY City Tech to complete the degree requirements. Through our partnership with FEF, our program has a solid post-secondary plan to ensure that students complete the degree requirements debt-free, while providing paid internship opportunities to our students after they graduate high school. Our program allows students to complete half of the AAS degree with a guaranteed pathway into the Bachelor of Technology in Hospitality Management. Scholarships will be awarded as needed for all participating students while at CUNY City Tech the year following HS graduation, to ensure a debt-free education.”

Will it be AP, College Now, Early College or CTE for your child? 

Irena Smith, a consultant and author of the memoir The Golden Ticket: A Life in College Admissions Essays, advises that “many of the students I work with see advanced placement courses as a ticket to highly selective colleges—the more the better. The problem is that not every student has the maturity or the academic capacity to do college-level work in high school, and students who feel that they need to keep up with their peers or meet outsized expectations sometimes struggle with the demands and the pacing of those courses. I suggest parents begin by asking not ‘how many?’ and ‘which kind?’ but with the basics: ‘what is my student interested in?’, ‘how strong are their study skills?’, and ‘what are their short- and long-term goals?’ Addressing those questions before making decisions about coursework will go a long way toward avoiding unnecessary stress and frustration in the future.”

NYC public high schools run the gamut, and it’s up to families to decide which option works best for them!

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