A first person account of the College Board’s grip on the path to higher education
BY OSCAR KIM BAUMAN
Anyone my age — 18 — would be intimately familiar with the name “College Board.” As my classmates and I traversed the convoluted path to college over the last two years, the organization was omnipresent. At every step of the way, the College Board was there to remind us to register and pay our fees, lest we risk our futures. Looking back on the college application process, getting ready to go off to college and never again think about the SATs or APs, I’ve come to see the true face of the College Board, the high-profit “not-for-profit” with a stranglehold over admissions to higher education.
To an uninformed student, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that the College Board is a government institution, or some kind of philanthropic organization at the least. Their online presence, full of language about educational opportunity, suggests an organization out to help students. That facade begins to fade as you begin to add up how much money you have to pay to the College Board. Taking the SAT, its subject tests, and a few AP exams alone cost my family hundreds of dollars, plus additional fees to send the results of those tests to colleges. That’s not even taking into consideration the hundreds to thousands of dollars families can spend studying for the College Board’s trademarked exams.
According to a 2015 Washington Post article, the College Board, despite its legal standing as a not-for-profit, operates at a budget surplus of around $44 million each year. This chunk of money, drawn from hopeful students, appears to go largely towards paying its executives. According to a 2011 Bloomberg article, executives at the College Board make upwards of $300,000 each year. College Board CEO David Coleman reportedly makes around $700,000 a year, although his predecessor, former West Virginia governor Gaston Caperton, made much more, a reported $1.3 million in 2009.
A spokesman for the College Board, Zachary Goldberg, said the organization is geared toward student achievement.
“For us, success is measured by the opportunities we deliver to students, not by profits. All revenue is reinvested into programs aimed at expanding educational opportunities for all students, including exam fee reductions for low-income students,” he said in an email.
He said the Board waives more than $114 million in student fees each year.
But money-making aside, the ethics of the College Board’s testing practices have come under serious question over the years. Although the past few years have seen a much-hyped overhaul of the SAT in an attempt to remove cultural biases, scores still correlate highly with income — the test is still best prepared for in expensive prep classes, as it barely resembles typical classroom work.
Perhaps most disturbing is the Board’s sale of student’s data. Although the Board has pledged not to sell students’ information for purposes of advertising, the institutions that buy this information may share it with “partners.”
A 2013 suit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union brought to light the use of student data from the College Board by military recruitment programs, including data on race that allowed the Department of Defense to heavily target low-income black and Latino students in recruitment efforts
Goldberg, the Board spokesman, said “students and their families have complete discretion as to how much information they disclose beyond the minimum information required to complete such actions as registering for an exam or saving college lists.”
The College Board, he said, carefully monitors the use of student information through the terms of a license agreement.
“We have terminated accounts previously when we have identified users that violated our authorized use policies. After a five year term, the institutions must permanently destroy the data,” Goldberg wrote.
Still, students are given little warning that their data is used like this, scrolling past the fine print when they’re signing up to take the SAT.
At this point in my life, I’m entering college, while leaving the College Board behind. Soon, my sister, a rising sophomore in high school, will get to know the College Board.