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Obama keeps early campaign promise about high schoolers

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he would “set a goal of increasing the number of high school students taking college level or AP courses by 50 percent in the coming years.”

AP, or advanced placement, courses are taken in high school and can be used for college credit if the student earns a high enough score on the final exam. On this metric, Obama hit his target.

Data from the College Board, which runs the AP program, shows that the number of students taking AP courses rose from 1.58 million in the 2007-08 academic year to 2.61 million in the 2015-16 academic year. That’s a 65 percent increase — well above Obama’s goal.

If you instead use the 2008-09 academic year as the baseline, the increase is still greater than 50 percent — 54 percent, to be precise.

College Board spokeswoman Jaslee Carayol said that much of the AP participation growth has come from low-income AP test-takers. Using a federal fee-reduction program called the Advanced Placement Test Fee Program, the number of AP exams taken by low-income students has grown from 82,000 in 1999 to 850,000 in 2016.

We’ll also note that in his promise, Obama also mentioned high school students taking college level courses, often referred to as dual enrollment. By that measurement, he didn’t do quite as well, but he still notched a significant double-digit increase.

Experts told us it’s hard, given the timing and availability of the relevant statistics, to check progress on this goal directly. But they added that the number can be approximated by looking at the percentage of college students who are under 18.

Data from the Department of Education’s Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System showing that in fall 2007 — the last sampling before Obama took office — 683,673 students under 18 attended some college. By fall 2013, that number had risen to 885,104 — a 29 percent increase. If the data were projected forward from 2013 based on past growth rates, the increase would be somewhere around 40 percent.

In isolation, this “dual enrollment” falls short of the 50 percent increase Obama called for. However, Obama did refer to students “taking college level or AP courses,” which suggests that he was looking at the combination of both. And if you combine the two types of data, the increase has been over 50 percent.

Observers said Obama deserves at least partial credit for achieving this result.

“The Obama administration has done a considerable amount to encourage states and school districts to increase dual enrollment opportunities through written policy and grant guidelines in programs such as ESEA Waivers, Investing in Innovation Fund, Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, College Access Challenge Grants, Promise Neighborhoods, and the Fund for Improvement in Postsecondary Education,” said Adam I. Lowe, executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships.

We rate this a Promise Kept.

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