The U.S. Department of Education announced on Sept. 20 that it will award $28.4 million in Advanced Placement (AP) grants to 41 states and Washington, D.C. as part of its efforts to boost college and career readiness for historically underserved students. The grants will help defray the costs of taking advanced placement tests for students from low-income families.

James Cole Jr. is general counsel, who has been delegated the duties of deputy secretary of education under the U.S. Department of Education. (Courtesy Photo)

The grants, offered to subsidize test fees, are designed to offset the cost for students from low-income families who take approved advanced placement tests administered by the College Board, the International Baccalaureate Organization, and Cambridge International Examinations. By subsidizing test fees, which are about $100 per test, the program encourages all students to take advanced placement tests and obtain college credit for high school courses, reducing the time and cost required to complete a postsecondary degree.

“The cost of a test should never prevent students from taking their first step towards higher education through advanced placement courses,” said James Cole Jr., general counsel delegated the duties of deputy secretary. “These grants are an important tool for states, and ultimately schools, to empower students from low-income neighborhoods to succeed in challenging courses.”

According to Cole, challenges in course access are among the reasons the administration progressively increased its focus on expanding access to computer science and the reason the College Board, with National Science Foundation support, began developing a new AP Computer Science Principles course (AP CSP), designed with the goal to recruit and retain students who are typically underrepresented in the fields. More than 2,000 classrooms already signed up for the class, reaching an estimated 25,000 high school students in this academic year and putting AP CSP on track to be largest course launch in AP history.

“We want to dramatically increase the number of minority students that are college ready,” Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Ken Wagner told the AFRO. “As a first-generation college student who grew up in low-income setting, I would not have been able to thrive and be prepared for the rigors of college without these courses.”

Ann Whalen, senior advisor, Department of Education, told the media that levels of funding per state were determined on the basis of state estimates of the numbers of tests that would be taken by students from low-income families. From 2015 to 2016, preliminary results show that the number of tests covered by the program increased from 831,913 to 862,204, an improvement of nearly 4 percent.

Whalen said the funding also offers a component of support that addresses poor retention. “As our statistics show, D.C. was eligible for and received $88,000 to assist with Advanced Placement testing, courses, and preparedness,” Whalen told the AFRO. “There was considerable test fee reduction and any qualified student was able to take advantage of those opportunities, so there is a system of support to help students matriculate.”