AP vs. Dual Credit
The AP Earth and Space Dilemma
Although the purpose of AP and dual credit curricula is effectively the same, the methods each uses to achieve the goals are very different.
AP (advanced placement) courses are created and governed by the College Board, a well established, non-profit association composed of colleges, universities and a variety of other educational organizations and institutions. The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), for example, is another of the College Boardís tests so their name as a testing agency is widely accepted and well known throughout the United States.
At the current time there are 30 AP exams which run the gamut of curricula from Physics to English Literature to Music Theory (several other programs are currently under consideration). Whether a school district offers an AP or not is up to that particular district. However, the College Board also has to consider the likelihood their efforts will lead to an exam that will produce enough demand to justify the research and development needed to create a new curriculum. Herein lies the problem with the earth and space sciences.
The lack of an AP exam can generally be explained two ways. The first lies in the nature of the science and its inclusion of four distinctly different applied scientific fields; geology, meteorology, oceanography and astronomy. Each draws from different principles of biology, chemistry and physics and each also has its own respective professional organizations that want to be included in the final curriculum. With so many stakeholders and sets of priorities involved, deciding on a final AP curriculum has proven to be nearly impossible to this day.
The second issue is a more practical one of instruction. By and large, dedicated earth and space curricula are currently taught at the middle school level or ninth grade at the latest which translates into very few qualified geoscience instructors at the high school level. With no instructors to teach such an advanced curriculum, the College Board would again see all of the effort invested in designing an AP Earth & Space Science largely go to waste.
The Dual Credit Option
For many different reasons, research is showing that schools at the "leading edge" of education are not only strengthening their AP programs but are also branching out into different arenas where their students can potentially earn post secondary credit by engaging in advanced studies other than the traditional AP curricula. Whether that opportunity manifests itself through AP style programs like the International Baccalaureate (IB) system or dual credit options, there is no doubt the playing field is widening. Even a cursory web search will reveal dozens of recent articles and research papers about this very topic.
Whether referred to as dual credit, dual enrollment or one of several other names, the principal behind these courses remains the same. It is to introduce high school students into the world of college curricula prior to full time enrollment as traditional freshmen. These programs also differ widely in their delivery whereby some require students to attend classes at a local college campus yet others provide professors at a high school campus where others even allow approved high school teachers to administer the program themselves. Nationally, these types of programs are currently most prevalent at two year community colleges but an ever increasing number of four year institutions are now beginning to join in similar partnerships. In the case of the Advanced Geosciences I and II curricula, the courses will be taught by an Upper Dublin instructor formally approved by the cooperating university.
Which is Better...AP or Dual Credit?
It would be simple if there was a "silver bullet" answer to this question but there simply is not. Each option has certain advantages and limitations (it is difficult to say either has "disadvantages" if completed successfully). Ultimately, it is important to understand that there is no hard and fast rule about what a college or university does with an applicant who has AP and/or dual credit courses on his or her high school transcript. Let's not forget there are still schools out there that do not accept AP or dual credit credits no matter what the score on the exam was or who is sanctioning the curricula.
In the end, it is perhaps most helpful to encourage a college applicant to contact the school of his or her choice to see exactly what it will or will not accept rather than being surprised at the last moment. College admissions processes are quite often very complicated and involve more than successful completion of just AP or dual credit courses. An aspiring college student should consider all of the facets of their application in order to create the greatest chance of success. Once in the door, the rest is up to them.
Below is a basic comparison of AP versus dual credit courses which can be used by those considering both options1.
1Chart modified from data acquired at El Paso (TX) Independent School District