AP and Tech courses add value, now and later

AP and Tech courses add value, now and later
Posted on 02/07/2021

Good evening!  As you just finished digging out from another snowstorm, I wanted to share some reflections and thoughts about academic and financial trends.  What inspired me to write this blog was listening to stories from our graduates and/or their parents who attended QCHS during my tenure. 

Most of these conversations are about their college and career preparation and readiness, and life after high school. The most recent was last week with a Quakertown grad who was working behind the counter at Jersey Mikes.  She said, “Hi, Dr. Harner,” as soon as I walked in the door. It was funny how she recognized me even behind my mask.  She graduated last summer with an associates degree from Bucks County Community College and immediately enrolled in a bachelor's completer program.  It was nirvana to my ears, as she shared her education quest with me! What is also neat is how they are networking after graduation with each other and me.

In one of my first blogs as your superintendent in February 2014 (the last time we had a polar vortex and lots of snow) I shared a few national and QCHS graduate statistics with you. Back then, slightly less than 50% of Americans who went to a four-year college graduated in four years, and only 60% after six years. At that time, students, graduates and college dropouts nationwide held $1 trillion of student loan debt.  Back then, our QCHS graduate stats were mostly comparable for post-secondary college work. That included the heavy weight of student loan debt. It is a heavy burden on students and/or their families. 

Today, graduation rates for undergraduates nationally are only a few percentage points higher, but student loan debt has risen to $1.68 trillion. Student loan debt carried by Pennsylvanians is the sixth highest in the country with 54% attending state universities.  For many college bound students and their parents, there is a general lack of knowledge of the implications of student loan debt and possible implications over a lifetime.

As I was getting my thoughts together for this blog, I went into an upstairs closet and grabbed The Game of Life  (vintage 1960) off the shelf.  It might be an ice breaker for you in beginning a dinner conversation about choices that each student needs to make about what comes after high school. As a first generation college graduate in the 1970’s, the discussion and decisions were fairly similar for me.  While just a game, The Game of Life captures fairly well the relative benefits and the requisite costs of one of life’s most important decisions, college, though the costs are significantly more today.  The decision to go to college or immediately into the workforce is normally made well before graduation. Our children’s options are the result of the quality of our K-12 teaching in QCSD, the motivation and ambition of the student, as well as the ambition and hands-on approach of parents in supporting your child(ren)’s education, and family financial wherewithal.  It takes years of tough choices and hard work to come close to getting it right! 

COVID-19 has turned a lot of post-secondary thinking upside down for students, colleges and universities that they plan to attend, and the workplace in our local community.  Students have lost quality facetime with their professors and the independence of the college experience, college and universities have lost billions of dollars, and parents are paying the full cost of the college experience while their children are still living at home. It's a conundrum for everyone, especially now with the challenging job market after graduation.  Many college graduates are sitting at home unemployed, while those who went right into the workforce after Upper Bucks County Technical School are heavily recruited.

I recommend that you begin with the “end in mind.”  If your thoughts and counsel at home are about starting a career right after high school, the educational opportunities at UBCTS are priceless.  About 25% of QCHS students attend Tech right now for half the school day, starting as early as 9th grade.  The vocational completer programs offer a myriad of courses that all align with career opportunities after graduation.  The UBCTS leadership team has an extensive network of clients/workplaces out in the local community for internships and work.  When it comes to payoff, a recent UBCTS graduate secured a starting salary over $90,000.  

For college and university bound students, little has changed except with taking the SAT and ACT.  Most higher education institutions are not requiring the exam for admissions.  It could play out the same way for the QCHS Class of 2022.  What colleges continue to look for is the level of rigor of a student’s high school program (honors and Advanced Placement classes), grade-point average, and class rank.  Students who take more rigorous courses are rewarded in three ways - it helps their GPA, it offers learning at a much higher level - they develop their academic “muscles,” and they do better on national assessments.  Since we doubled our AP offerings at QCHS seven years ago, our average SAT score has risen more than 100 points.  This will be important for incoming 9th graders and current 9th graders, for whom the SAT and ACT could be required again.  Almost 50% of our college bound graduates start taking AP courses in 10th grade.  Last year, 32% of the members of the Class of 2020 took and passed at least one AP exam, up from 18% in 2014. 

Taking an AP course, and passing the exam, is much more than a high school transcript and GPA enhancer, it's like earning another scholarship to college.  Most colleges and universities, including BCCC, accept AP courses for credit, and they count toward a college diploma.  Many of our graduates are completing enough AP courses in high school that they graduate from college in three years or less. What a great way to rein in college debt by not accruing it!  Also, years ago, to mitigate the financial hardship of paying for AP exams, the School Board began to reimburse parents for the cost of the exams, after students pass them.  It's a win for everybody!  Let’s drive down those college costs by improving student achievement and scholarship right here in Quakertown.

As we are about to begin another week in QCSD (and the Super Bowl), I want to thank you for your support and feedback.  Let’s hope that the weather allows us to keep schools open for live instruction all week.

Bill Harner


[email protected]

Twitter: @billharner

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