Why Two Heavy Hitters Are Teaming Up on STEM, With an Eye on AP Courses

If you raise money for STEM education, two major players who'll inevitably cross your radar are the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) and ExxonMobil. We've written about both over time, and we're always keen to see what they've been up to lately.

Well, the latest news is that NMSI, with help from ExxonMobil, has announced a major expansion of its college readiness program in the state of Louisiana, awarding $13 million to improve instruction in reading, math, and science.

NMSI (sometimes pronounced "nim-see") approaches college readiness with a clear emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math careers. Universities and state education groups are among the chief recipients of NMSI funding. One of its primary activities is providing resources for teachers of Advanced Placement courses and expanding student access to these courses, which enable students who pass the AP exams to earn college credit while still in high school. NMSI views AP as one of the most powerful vehicles for preparing high school students for the rigors of college-level coursework. (We've looked at other funders keen on AP courses, by the way, especially the O'Donnell Foundation.)

NMSI's college readiness program provides training for teachers and additional supplies and materials to support AP instruction. Nationally, NMSI's programs reach 800 high schools in 30 states, so this is an organization with wide reach. 

Already, four Louisiana high schools in Bossier City and Baton Rouge benefit from the program, which serves more than 1,100 students. The increased funding from ExxonMobil will expand the college readiness program to many more high schools and students across the Pelican State. Participating schools have already had success with the program. The Shreveport Times reported that in 2015, students in two high schools in Bossier Parish, where the program is in its second year, increased their AP exam scores by more than 200 percent, far outpacing the statewide average.

ExxonMobil's involvement in NMSI's work makes sense. The energy giant has supported STEM projects through its philanthropic arm, and the company has a major presence in Louisiana, operating a refinery near Baton Rouge, the state's capital city. The oil and petrochemical industries comprise a key segment of the Pelican State's economy and require a work force skilled in STEM subjects. However, the state is among the lowest-achieving states in math and science, according to the Science and Engineering Readiness Index (SERI) published by a national physics organization.

Rather than looking for new and innovative — but untried — approaches to increasing college readiness, NMSI takes interventions known to be successful and scales them up, enabling greater numbers of students, teachers, and schools to benefit. AP is such an intervention, as it is one of the best means for preparing high school students for postsecondary success.

Related: IP Guide to Grants for College Readiness