AP Exam Fee Waivers: Title IV and The New Rules

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Mike Hobolth is the Associate Principal at Lapeer Community Schools, Zemmer Campus and has been an MASSP member since 2002.

AP exam fees are an important part of the "equity and access" discussion in Advanced Placement. While there is no cost for a student to take an AP course, each AP exam will cost $93 in 2017 (more for AP Capstone exams). Since these fees are typically paid by the student, this is very often a prohibitive problem for economically disadvantaged students. In the past the federal and state governments have worked their budgeting processes, in collaboration with the College Board, to provide exams for poor students at a lower cost. The amounts in the past have ranged from no cost to $25 per exam for students who are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch (in recent years my state, Michigan, has offered the exams to these students for $5 per exam). This has been messy on occasion, but it has been an important effort to offer equity to students who are seeking access to college.

The game is changing, however. With the replacement of No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states and districts are about to confronted with Title IV, Part A, a block-grant that offers funding for "student support and academic enrichment," for which AP plays a significant part in most schools. The change will be this: instead of schools playing a passive role by waiting for the state to tell them how much an exam will cost for a low-income student, districts will need to actively designate that funding in advance. This will require prior planning by agencies (schools, districts and states) which had previously not had to do any planning for this. So some of us who work in AP in schools can anticipate some of the confusion, finger-pointing and general anger to be generated that we often witness (and occasionally participate in) when new rules pop up. But as it often happens, the new rules will become a part of the things we do to support the present and future successes of our kids. Knowledge is power; knowing what's coming may give us an improved ability to manage these things correctly.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Title IV funds can be used to pay for AP exams for low-income students for the May 2017 and May 2018 exam windows.
  • Title IV funds for the fiscal year 2017 will need to be used to cover fee waivers for the next two years. Thereafter, schools will be able to designate one year at a time (unless, of course, the game changes again).
  • Beginning in academic year 2017-18, Title IV can be used for other purposes as well, including AP and Pre-AP teacher professional development.
  • Title I and II, which have been used by districts for many of these purposes, are still available.
  • Title IV may become attractive to interests other than AP, including higher education (dual credit, early college and other college-in-high-school opportunities as examples). Districts and schools should make sure that economically-disadvantaged AP candidates, who are among our most promising and most vulnerable students, are protected by making sure that AP exam fee waivers are a priority in the allocation of these funds.

Details for this are still coming to states; district information will follow. High school administrators and coordinators should keep central office officials aware of this development; this information will be a very important advanced notice of a big shift in supporting AP access for our students.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Looking for more information about this change? Trying to find ways to use this and other available resources to build your AP program? Be sure to attend the upcoming Principals Summit in Detroit on October 10-11 where College Board will be offering a breakout session on these topics.