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Utah students swell the ranks of AP classes

Utah teenagers are doing more than preparing for college — they're racking up credits.

The number of high school students signed up for Advanced Placement courses increased 5 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to a national report released Tuesday by the College Board, which oversees the AP program.

Interest in concurrent enrollment, which saves students more cash per credit, is growing even faster.

"We try to promote college-level classes," said Dee Burton, principal of Davis High School, which had the highest number of AP students last year. "We feel like the kids who come here have the ability to excel at high levels."

Principals want to make sure graduating seniors have the "opportunity to participate and be successful in at least one college-level course," said John Jesse, director of assessment for the State Board of Education.

"It's kind of like a no-student-left-behind deal," Jesse said. "Every high school student could benefit from challenging themselves to that experience."

Marcella Pereda, a recent Skyline High School graduate, said her AP classes were interesting, challenging and invaluable as confidence-builders.

"I got so much from those classes," the 18-year-old said. "Those were some of my favorite teachers."

Of the five courses Pereda took, however, only three made it onto her college transcript. For AP students, that's not uncommon.

In order to earn college credit for Advanced Placement courses, students have to pass a rigorous end-of-the-year exam. According to the College Board's report, only 65 percent of the students who complete the coursework for AP classes actually score high enough to get credit. This number increased slightly from 2008 to 2009.

As a result, school administrators say, while AP enrollment is increasing, the programs account for only a fraction of the high school students earning college credit.

"The AP program is alive and well," said Brian Devries, Alta High School's AP test coordinator, "but we are seeing more of an increase in the concurrent enrollment program."

Alta High reported the second highest number of AP students in the state, but Devries said he passed out fewer tests this year than last.

Jesse likened comparing concurrent enrollment with Advanced Placement to "saying which of your daughters has prettier hair." Concurrent enrollment is cheaper, though, and, in a sense, safer.

Parents must shoulder the cost for Advanced Placement classes, which is about $85 per class, said Ken Nielsen, a guidance counselor at Delta High School. To take an unlimited number of concurrent enrollment classes, however, students must only pay a one-time application fee that rings in at about $35. The public education system picks up the rest.

Concurrent enrollment's growth can be measured in public dollars budgeted. The State Board of Education spent nearly $1 million more supporting concurrent enrollment courses in 2008 than it did in 2007.

For concurrent enrollment students who, unlike AP students, don't have to gamble their grade on one test, this is great news.

Concurrent enrollment saves Utah students more than $19 million annually, money they would likely have to spend during college years.

"Why not take the classes now?" said Katy Palmer, a 17-year-old senior from Roy. "The high school is willing to pay for it, so my tuition is free. It would be really expensive if I waited."