One necessary addition to public higher ed’s equity agenda 

The retiring commissioner of higher education, Dr. Carlos Santiago, recently took to CommonWealth to review the progress of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education’s Equity Agenda. Over the last four years, the Board has focused on “elevating equity, critically examining policies and practices, and working to dismantle structural barriers” to advance social and economic opportunity for all citizens, especially those that have been historically marginalized.  A Performance Measurement Review System  to collect data on meeting the needs of underserved students is laying the groundwork for the Equity Agenda and more work is planned to turn the “aspiration” of the agenda into reality.   

There is one easy policy change that would contribute immediately to the Equity Agenda. Massachusetts currently has a patchwork policy for awarding college credit to students who pass Advanced Placement examinations. Students may receive college credit for a qualifying score of 3 on the AP exam at one state university, but not another; at one community college, but not another; and at one UMass campus; but not another.  

Overall, according to the College Board, 36% of Massachusetts students who pass the AP exam score a three, 38% score a four, and 27% score a five, the highest score available.  But for African American, Hispanic, and low-income students, the percentage who score a three is significantly higher, 53%, 41%, and 44%, respectively.  When a score of four or greater is needed to earn credit at a state public higher institution, there is a much greater chance that an African American, Hispanic, or low-income student will not qualify even though they passed the exam.    

This makes no sense and discriminates against many marginalized students who enroll in AP courses, pass the exams, and look to our public higher ed system to pursue their college education. It means that deserving students are denied the benefits of their success in the AP program, namely tuition savings and getting a head start on college while in high school. The House passed legislation that would address this inconsistency, but the legislative session ended before the Senate could act.  

Massachusetts is a leader in AP education.  We are number one in the nation in the percentage of high school graduates who take an AP exam and receive a qualifying score.  Yet we lag behind 35 other states who have adopted, either by law or regulation, an AP credit policy.  This must change or we will risk losing important ground on the state’s Equity Agenda. 

 Mi’s policy & advocacy team has made passage of this bill in 2023 a priority.  We hope you will consider joining us in this pursuit of equity in our public higher ed system. 

John Schneider

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