It looks like some schools are using the AP exam as a proxy for rigor.
Leaving the relative merits (or lack thereof) of this approach as a subject for another post, we will limit our focus to just look at the math here.
According to the College Board, 903,630 students who graduated in 2011 took at least one AP exam. Note that this is not the same as the number of total exams taken, as some people take more than one exam. The actual number of exams administered by the AP for students graduating in 2011 is actually 2,720,084.
This number is sourced from the data provided by the College Board. Grab Appendix C: AP Exams Taken in U.S. Public Schools by the Class of 2011. See field C73 in that spreadsheet for the total.
Each AP exam administered within the US is $87 per exam. For AP tests outside the US, the cost is $117.00. Students pay these fees. For students with "financial need" there is a "fee reduction" that comes out to $34.00, which brings the cost of each exam to $53.00. For students with financial need, the cost of the exam can be covered for the student via federal and state grant programs.
The full criteria for financial assistance is here.
From page 20 of the AP report available here for the class of 2011 (pdf download), the total number of AP exams taken by low income graduates is 612,282 (1).
To recap: 903,630 students graduating in high school in 2011 took 2,720,084 AP exams.
Of these 2,720,084 exams taken, 612,282 exams were taken by low-income students, so the College Board only collected 53/exam from the tests taken by low-income students.
For the 2,107,802 tests taken at the full price of 87/exam, the College Board took in $183,378,774.00.
For the 612,282 exams taken by low income students, the College Board took in $32,450,946.00.
So, for all exams taken by members of the class of 2011, the College Board collected $215,829,720.00. And, please note, these calculations do NOT include:
- Any additional fees for exams taken outside the United States;
The amount of money paid money to the College Board for the required privilege of taking the SAT and the PSAT;
On page C2 of the full report available here (pdf download), the College Board says that this data "represents public school students only" - it's unclear whether students at private schools were left out of the raw total of tests taken, but the disclaimer that the data is for public school students only implies that this is the case. If the numbers provided by the College Board do not include students at independent schools, then the calculations in this post are low, as students at private schools take a large number of AP exams.
It's safe to say that the class of 2011 - and every other graduating year in the United States going back decades - has paid its share of homage to the College Board. Calculating conservatively, the College Board pulled in $215,829,720.00 from the AP alone.
At what point do we stop, and ask the question: how could these resources be used more effectively? Is this what an excellent education looks like?
Also, if there is better data than what I have used here, or if there are things that are overlooked in these calculations, please let me know. I would love to be wrong here, as the prospect of graduating seniors paying nearly 216 million dollars to the College Board as an added cost of a high school education is depressing beyond words.
Image Credit: "I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils..." taken by Melissa Doroquez, published under an Attribution Share-Alike license.
1. Interestingly (concidentally?), this aligns pretty closely with the number of people below 18 who are living in poverty: while 22% of all people under 18 in the United States are in poverty, roughly 22.5% (612,282 divided by 2,107,802) of the AP exams taken by graduates of the class of 2011 were taken by "low-income" students. While this is likely just an odd coincidence, it would be interesting to see if the number of AP exams taken by students was spread evenly across socioeconomic status.