UW-Green Bay freshmen racking up the credits — before setting foot on campus

Anne Farrell, UW-Green Bay studentFor UW-Green Bay student Anne Farrell, freshman year wasn’t exactly freshman year.

Sure, Farrell had just completed high school, graduating from Green Bay Southwest with the class of 2010. Yes, she was new to campus, and was becoming accustomed to college life with the rest of her peers.

But thanks to an array of Advanced Placement courses taken — and tests mastered — Farrell started school here last fall with 48 college credits. Success in Spanish 225 earned Farrell 14 retroactive language credits and took her still further along the path toward earning her degree.

Farrell certainly is ambitious, but she’s hardly alone. Forty-one percent of fall 2010 freshmen began their UW-Green Bay careers with prior college credits, whether from AP courses, university classes taken in high school or other sources, according to UW-Green Bay’s Office of Institutional Research & Assessment. More than a quarter of new freshmen — 242 students — started with one to 12 credits, while 10 percent — 88 students — started with 13 to 23 prior credits earned. A smaller but still notable 4 percent, or 40 students, got a fast start to their UW-Green Bay careers by bringing 24 or more prior credits to campus.

“You have to take classes in high school anyway,” said Farrell, who is majoring in mathematics and computer science, “so you might as well get (college) credit.”

Reaping the benefits

Students like Farrell cite a number of advantages to earning prior credits, including cost savings and preparation for the rigor of college life. And while there are a number of pluses, graduating early isn’t necessarily among them.

For many students, pre-earned credits allow additional scheduling flexibility, said Darrel Renier, UW-Green Bay’s associate director for academic advising. Particularly for those who work — an estimated 70 percent of UW-Green Bay students, according to the most recent available figures — having prior credits can lighten the load. Students often choose to take fewer credits so they can work more and ultimately end up with less student loan debt, Renier said. That means even those who come to campus with a sizeable number of credits may not be on an accelerated path toward graduation.

Close to a quarter of UW-Green Bay students complete their degrees here within four years, while about half finish in five years. Both rates of completion are slightly lower than the UW System average, which is unsurprising given the less traditional path of many UWGB students who return as adults, attend school part time so they can work more, or both.

In addition to work considerations, students may hesitate to rush their college careers, prior credits or not, because they want to fully experience University life, Renier said.

“If you’re doing 18 credits,” he said, “you have less opportunity for experiences outside the classroom.”

Students and parents often differ on the importance of finishing college quickly, Renier said. During each freshman FOCUS registration session, he asks the assembled students who plans to graduate in four years. Their relatively tentative raising of hands often stands in sharp contrast to that of parents in the room, nearly all of whom quickly and definitively indicate they want their children to earn a degree in that amount of time, he said.

A recent Washington Post article reflects that concept on a national level, finding that while a number of colleges and universities started three-year accelerated degree programs during the economic downturn, there have been few takers. What sounds good in theory may fall apart in practice, as students want to savor their college experience, the article found.

Increasing opportunities

The Advanced Placement program is by far the most popular way for students to earn college credits while still in high school, and about 40 percent of last year’s prior credits earned by freshmen were obtained that way, said Debbie Furlong, director of Institutional Research at UW-Green Bay. About 29 percent of prior credits earned by 2010 freshmen came from retroactive foreign language credits, while a quarter of earned credits came from university courses completed while still in high school. The remaining six percent came from other sources.

Statistics are not yet available for this fall’s freshmen, the bulk of whom registered for classes during the FOCUS R & R — Registration & Resources — events in June. But if members of this class are anything like their predecessors, they’ll be bringing a good number of credits, too.

That’s due at least in part to an increased number of offerings from area school districts, from which many UW-Green Bay freshmen hail. The Green Bay School District, for example, offers 17 AP courses and recently was named to the College Board’s AP Achievement list. From 2008 to 2010, the number of Green Bay district students who took AP courses increased from 430 to 539, officials said. More than 70 percent of those earned AP test scores of 3 — the score typically needed to earn college credit — or higher. The district was one of 388 in 43 states to earn the designation for expanding opportunity for AP courses while also improving performance.

Farrell had many friends who took an AP path similar to hers, amassing numerous credits before ever setting foot on campus. She recalls her AP Physics class as a high school highlight, and says it prepared her and many of her peers to do well on the credit-earning AP exam. In addition to the academic and financial benefits, Farrell also enjoys registering for UWGB classes earlier than many of her age-mates.

AP credits “get you out of the gate quick,” Renier said. “You start out more efficiently.”

For example, a student who comes in with nine prior credits can take 12 — instead of a regular load of 15 — during his or her first semester, and still be ahead of schedule if he or she plans to graduate in four years, Renier said. Whether the motivation is having time to work, focus on particularly challenging courses or pursue extracurricular involvement, it’s a good option to have, he added.

Farrell agrees; though like many students, she isn’t sure prior credits will be the path to a faster degree — even though she took 16 credits during each of her first two semesters on campus.

“I’d like to graduate sooner,” she said. But I’m double majoring — so I think it might even out.”

You may also like...