The Education Department has announced plans to distribute more than $21 million in funds to cover fees for Advanced Placement testing for low-income students in 42 states, a program particularly important to first-generation college-bound youth.

Aid from the Advanced Placement Test Fee Program is based on the number of low-income students expected to take the exams in that state.

The states that received the most funds have large minority populations: California ($7.6 million), Texas ($2 million), Illinois ($1.7 million), and New York ($1.6 million).

The $87 cost to take the exam may be reduced for some low-income students.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that subsidizing test fees is essential in creating a college-bound culture and eliminating the roadblocks to obtain higher education for some these youths, many of whom may be the first in their family to pursue a degree.

"AP courses help students develop the study skills, critical reasoning, and habits of mind that prepare them for the transition to college. They give students — particularly first-generation college-goers — the confidence that they can successfully handle college-level work," Duncan said in a statement.

But in some regions, AP courses are scarce in some public schools, and minority participation in them is even more rare, according to an article in central Iowa's Quad-City Times.

For instance, in three Davenport high schools, of 100 students taking AP courses, 86 percent are white, 6 percent are Hispanic, 3 percent are African-American, and 2 percent are Asian, the article noted. Census data for Davenport indicate that the city's 2010 general population was 81 percent white, 7 percent Hispanic , 11 percent black, and 2 percent Asian.

In contrast to the 42 states, plus the U.S. Virgin Islands, that will receive grants, the eight states getting no aid are Arkansas, Florida, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

This article is part of our Next America: Higher Education project, which is supported by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation.

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