OP ED: An Open Mind on Open Enrollment

Maeve Parmelee and

Although taking higher level classes seems exciting to some students, some see it as an immense amount of pressure. In 2014, Pelham Memorial High School introduced a system of open enrollment to students. This program allows students to choose the level of classes they want to take, regardless of their grades and other qualifications.

Mrs. Clark, the principal of PMHS, explained that open enrollment was instituted in order to prepare students for the rigorous classes they will ultimately face in college.

Mrs. Clark said, “We want our students to be challenged.”

Although PMHS instituted open enrollment with the right intentions, this system ultimately eliminates students’ work incentive, fuels pressure from parents and peers, and negates the importance of being in a high level class since one no longer has to secure their place in the roster.

If students are permitted to take classes of any level without first maintaining a certain average or grade, they are being given an opportunity that they did not earn. The only step students need to take to ensure they are placed in a high level course is to ask their guidance counselor to enroll them in it.

Junior Daniel Tahbaz said, “I believe open enrollment offers a great opportunity to students with all types of grades that wish to challenge themselves. However, I also believe that there must be a minimum required grade met by students in honors or AP courses. If this grade is not met by the add/drop period, you run the risk of both students’ and teachers’ valuable time being wasted.” If PMHS did not offer open enrollment, students would have to prove their placement in more advanced courses, therefore putting in more time and effort to obtain the necessary grades.

Jeff Rickey, Dean of Admissions at St. Lawrence University disagrees. In a NY Times article entitled, “Advice From a Dean of Admissions on Selecting High School Courses,” Rickey sees the benefits of merely being inquisitive even if one’s GPA falls short of a predetermined requirement. “Students should let their curiosity overcome their hesitation,” Rickey recommends. “The teacher of the class is likely to be passionate about the subject, so the student’s interest may grow. The student should take the most challenging course that is best for him or her. ”

On the other hand, Alena Turgend, in another NY Times article entitled, “Who Benefits from the Expansion of AP Classes,” points out some flaws in this logic. In reviewing course requirements, she points out that, “Students are expected to read college-level textbooks, grasp complicated vocabulary and concepts and spend 30 minutes to an hour each night on homework.” Not everyone is up to that challenge, and going into a rigorous class blind to the expectations can often be anxiety-producing. Rather than challenging a curious student, allowing them into a class for which they are unprepared or unable to complete the work might be viewed as a recipe for failure.

Students feel pressured by their classmates and parents to take high level classes. If a student’s friends are enrolled in all honors and all AP courses then that makes them want to do the same. Students may not be equipped with the skills necessary for the class; as a result, students may perform poorly in the class. Equally as dangerous is parents’ push on their children to prepare for college. Many parents assume that a rigorous course load is ideal for one’s transcript, regardless of the grade the student receives, and whether or not the student is properly equipped to take so many advanced courses.

Despite the downsides to open enrollment, it does challenge students and force them to develop better study habits. Although these skills will be useful throughout a student’s academic career, there comes a point where a challenging class becomes an impossible class, so the truly thoughtful student will make the decision of whether to participate in an AP class wisely!