Around 1951, Kenyon President Gordon Keith Chalmers proposed several initiatives to shorten the timeline for obtaining a bachelor’s degree. One would have called for students to enter college after their second or third years of high school. Another would eventually become the Advanced Placement (AP) program.
The inspiration for the second proposal was a study performed at Harvard, Yale and Princeton Universities, as well as three preparatory schools which looked at the relationship between secondary and higher education. It recommended that high school students be given access to college-level work in order to enter college with “advanced standing.”
At Chalmers’ invitation, representatives from 11 liberal arts colleges met in Washington, D.C. to consider common standards for advanced credit work. The meeting resulted in the formation of a joint committee, The School and College Study of Admission with Advanced Standing, which designed curricula to be implemented at the high school level. They introduced a pilot program at seven high schools in the 1952-53 academic year.
Central High School in Philadelphia, one of the sites of the pilot program, published a five-year report of the successes of the new curriculum. One participant accumulated enough college credit in high school to earn a Kenyon degree in three years. Several other students skipped the first two years of college and entered the University of Chicago with junior status.
The curriculum of the early program strongly resembled that of the modern AP program. College professors, several of whom were Kenyon faculty, structured the courses and set learning objectives. Each course cumulated in an “Advanced Placement Test” consisting of both “objective” questions and several essay prompts.
The Kenyon administration played a large role in the early affairs of the program. The first chairperson of the Advanced Standing committee almost became an employee of Kenyon, though it was later decided the committee and its chairperson should be financially independent from the College. (In 1955, the preexisting College Board began administering the program.)
Though the AP program has changed significantly since its inception at Kenyon, its ties to the College remain. Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Brad Hartlaub helped both write the AP Statistics curriculum and served as the exam’s Chief Reader from 2003 to 2007. According to him, taking AP classes in high school can allow for more interesting coursework in college. “Many high school students and parents think, ‘If I take eight AP courses, I just cut a year off my undergraduate education,’” Hartlaub said. “That’s not the intended purpose if you’re thinking about education in the liberal arts philosophy.”
Kenyon faculty vary widely in their assessment of the AP program, but most seem to agree that it is no replacement for Kenyon coursework. Professor of American Studies Peter Rutkoff spoke less highly of the AP program. “The exam controls [the AP course],” he said. “It tends to be very traditional; say for history, top-down.”
Rutkoff serves as the executive director of the Kenyon Academic Partnership (KAP), an early college program for students in select Ohio high schools. KAP began in the 1970s as a dual enrollment partnership between Kenyon and several high schools. Despite what might seem like a common heritage, Rutkoff described AP and KAP as “diametrically opposed.” Unlike in AP, KAP credit is awarded based on a year-long evaluation, much like a college-level course.
The Advanced Placement program has grown in the years since Chalmers, but the history of the program at Kenyon is not entirely forgotten. Hartlaub said that the Kenyon connection was recognized by several administrators in the College Board. The Ohio Historical Marker on Wiggin Street mentions Kenyon’s role in the AP program’s history. As stated on the sign, Kenyon is indeed a “Pioneer in Higher Education.”