TAMPA — By the time she graduates next spring, Plant High School senior Samantha Fowler may have earned college credit for as many as a dozen courses, giving her a head start on her education after high school — and potentially saving her family thousands of dollars in tuition and other costs.
Taking AP courses in high school can help students finish an undergraduate degree in less than the standard four years of college, or take more classes toward double majors, or speed up their work toward post-graduate degrees.
And with costs on the rise, the less time spent in college the cheaper the degree.
More Hillsborough County high-school students than ever are earning college credit by passing Advanced Placement exams.
In the 2013-14 school year, 34,011 AP exams were taken by Hillsborough students. Of those, students earned a score of 3, 4 or 5 on 15,390 of them, giving them college credit. That's an increase of more than 1,000 from the 6,700 exams passed the previous year.
“This effort from students is a huge time commitment and it really takes a lot of hard work,” Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said during a news conference Thursday. “AP classes are not just sit down and have someone give you information. You really have to become active in that learning process.”
Based on 2012-13 AP scores, Hillsborough families saved more than $10 million they would have spent on college credits, the school district said. With each three-credit course worth about $900, a student who takes five AP courses in one year can save $4,500.
Several parents and students, including Samantha Fowler, attended the news conference to drive home the point.
Fowler said her first AP course — geography in the ninth grade — was an adjustment from regular classes.
“I had to figure out how to manage my time,” said Fowler, who has already taken and passed eight AP courses and is scheduled to take three more as a senior.
Elia said more students are also earning industry certifications and International Baccalaureate diplomas.
A projected 4,000 students will earn an industry certification by the end of the summer, compared to 2,700 in 2012-13 and just 12 in 2007-08.
On average, 90 percent of students graduate with an IB diploma. The rigorous academic program is in place at four Hillsborough high schools — Strawberry Crest, Robinson, King and Hillsborough.
Jane Rothschild, whose children have taken both IB and AP courses at Robinson High, said the advanced work has better prepared them for college.
One of her daughters will graduate from New York University a semester early.
“You are able to take on the rigor of a college program in a way kids that have not had this exposure to advanced placement cannot do,” Rothschild said. “They write long papers, they do lots of research. All of this is almost second nature to them by the time they arrive at a college campus.”