Half of Rural Schools Have No AP Classes

The availability of advanced-placement courses (AP) decreases as schools get smaller and farther from major cities, a University of New Hampshire study finds. 


EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is excerpted from a new report published by the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. For a copy of the complete study, including citations and notes on data sources, visit the University of New Hampshire Scholars’ Repository.

Whether or not a district offers AP courses is one indicator of equality of educational opportunity. In districts without AP access, even the most gifted students would not likely have the opportunity to earn college credit in high school.

We find that rural students have considerably less access to AP courses than their peers in more urban areas: 47.2 percent of rural school districts have no students enrolled in AP courses, compared with only 20.1 percent, 5.4 percent, and 2.6 percent of town, suburban, and urban districts, respectively.

In addition, access to AP courses among rural districts varies considerably according to the size and relative remoteness of the district. We find less AP access in smaller districts and in districts located farther from urbanized areas. Table 1 (at the top of this article) shows AP access rates in fringe (closest to urbanized areas), distant, and remote (farthest from urbanized area) rural districts, sorted by larger and smaller populations. Gaps in AP access are evident when comparing larger and smaller population districts within each gradation of rurality. Remoteness is also uniquely related to AP access. For example, large, remote rural districts have approximately the same AP access as do much smaller, fringe rural districts.

Even when examining only
 those districts with some access
 to AP courses, enrollment in
 AP across lines of urbanicity is uneven. The percentage of students enrolled in at least one AP course in such urban and suburban districts is approximately double the percentage of such students in town and rural districts. Therefore, even in districts that have AP access—those that have found a way to offer AP to at least one student, thus making it easier for more students to take AP courses— disparities in enrollments still exist. Thus, rural students are far less likely to take AP coursework than their urban and suburban peers.

Suburban and Affluent Districts Have Higher Rates of AP Success 

Suburban districts exhibit the highest rates of AP success. In suburban districts, the average percentage
of AP-enrolled students who have passed at least one AP exam is 45.9 percent, compared with 36.4 percent, 32.3 percent, and 32.2 percent for students in urban, town, and rural districts, respectively. Such disparity in success is even greater across lines of poverty, as school districts in the most affluent (top) quartile of the United States exhibit an average success rate (49.3 percent) more than double that of districts in the poorest (bottom) quartile (24.3 percent). Figure 1 illustrates the interactions between urbanicity, poverty, and rates of AP success in school districts.

available here.