What are you getting credit for?

A colleague sent me an article about a U.S. university accepting transfer credit for a Udacity course – something described in the headline and the first few paragraphs as being a breakthrough in a school accepting a free, online course for full transfer credit.

The article gets interested when you dig into it though. The course in question is a intro level “Introduction to Computer Science” course. And, in order to get the transfer credit, students have to not only get a certificate of completion from Udacity showing that they completed the course, but also pass an exam administered at a testing center, for a cost of $89. Which, happens to be the exact same price as taking the AP CS exam, which you can take, by the way, even if you aren’t signed up for an AP class (with, I think, some hoops to jump through). And, I’m going to bet that the transfer credit received is the same transfer credit students would get if they took the AP exam and did well on it.

So, the more accurate portrayal of the story is, I think, that there is a university that has decided that they will now allows students to get transfer credit either for taking an AP exam or for taking one of these tests run by Pearson VUE (which, when you look into it, is a massive testing operation already). And, the university accepting the transfer credit is applying it only for their fully online program, not their programs with physical campuses.

Moving into the realm of wild speculation now, even if this practice becomes widespread, it seems like it will turn into more of a threat for the AP/CollegeBoard than for colleges which already allow students to get transfer credit for some introductory courses. With there still being fees and the need to show up at a testing center, I can see this broadening access to college-level placement tests. But (again, wild guessing), it seems like colleges will have less to lose with some number of freshmen who would not otherwise come in with transfer credits now having a handful. Whereas, as a high school student highly focused on your GPA, you have an interesting choice between whether you take an AP course which may get counted as more important on your transcript but may also result in a lower grade, or do you take an easier course, get a better grade, and then take an online course to supplement and then take an Udacity exam for college credit? Factor in that the AP is a one-shot deal, and it looks like you can retake the Udacity courses (more like the SATs) and there’s an interesting question of which is more appealing.

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