The College Board: Useful Organization or Money Making Scheme?


(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Ryan Rose, Co-Editor

Odds are that if you’re a high school student in the United States, you have probably come into contact with the College Board at some point in your educational career and if you somehow haven’t, it’s likely that you will. Maybe you’re an AP student taking College Board exams for college credit, or maybe a junior trying to get scholarships by taking the PSAT/NMSQT, or you could be an upperclassman getting ready to take the SAT hoping that a good score might just get you into your dream college. In some way shape or form, if you’re a high schooler and you even have thought about attending college after graduation, you’re bound to need the College Board at some point.

The College Board is a “nonprofit” organization that claims to help high school students in their transition to college by providing college level courses for them, giving them access to scholarships, and providing standardized testing that many colleges and universities throughout the country use to consider if applicants would be a good fit for their school. While this sounds great in theory, the reality is that the College Board takes advantage of the very students that they aim to help and seem to be less focused on education and more focused on economics. 

Despite being considered a nonprofit organization by the US government and earning a tax exempt status, the College Board makes millions of dollars each year. A simple search on ProPublica (a nonprofit organization that provides unbiased news and traces the economics of the College Board and other nonprofits by looking at IRS tax forms) shows that each year the College Board consistently makes millions of dollars in revenue while top executives of the organization get richer and richer. In 2016, the College Board made a profit of $37,567,594 while its president and CEO, David Coleman, made $1,455,613. Then, in 2017, the College Board expanded its profits to $139,917,497 and Coleman made another $1,309,707. The College Board “nonprofit” continued to be profitable in 2018 when it made $94,157,483 and Coleman brought in $1,532,201 for himself. Looking at all of the data as a whole, we see that each year the College Board continues to make money and its highest ranking officials get paid significantly more than what most Americans will make within a decade, nonetheless a year. 

Now, where does the College Board get this money? That’s simple to answer; the money comes from the high schoolers and young Americans that the College Board claims to help. The College Board does not offer its services out of the goodness of their hearts and they certainly do not offer them at a reasonable price for high school students. Any AP exams that a high school student wants to take for college credit will cost them $95. This fee only allows the student to take the test. The fee does not guarantee the student college credit, they will need to earn an eligible score first and even then the student must pay the college board another $15 if they want to send their score to their college for credit. Essentially, the student could pay for the test, but that test is meaningless unless they give the College Board more money after completing it. If the student does not pay to take the test before November 14th, the student will owe the College Board an additional $40 despite the fact that exams aren’t administered until May. Want to take the SAT? This will cost you $60 and you can only show your score to four colleges. If you want to send your score to more colleges, that’ll cost you more.

While these fees may seem small to some, for many students who have parents who will not or simply aren’t able to pay for these exams, these costs can be quite high. Especially when students essentially have to take numerous AP classes and have a good SAT score if they want to get into competitive colleges. A common counterargument to the fact that these fees are unfair is that AP classes are technically not required and now, SATS have no longer been required as part of the admissions process as well. While this is true to an extent, it is also true that if you were to hypothetically have the same exact application as another student applying to a university, but you didn’t take any AP exams, but the other student took numerous ones, the other student would be favored by the college. It is also true that if you were to have the same application but did not take the SAT and another student did take the SAT while recieving a good score, the other student would be favored.  

We must also consider the fact that the SAT is not an accurate measure of a student’s knowledge. Instead it is a measure of how well a student was able to perform on one test. There are some students, however, who are neurodivergent and may not be able to perform well on such a standardized test. There are also students who just aren’t good at handling the pressure of such important tests and therefore do not perform well on them. This doesn’t mean that these students are of lesser intelligence, it just means that they didn’t perform as well on a singular test. Colleges will still prefer the students who got a good score on the SAT however, even if it doesn’t always reflect the strength of students. We should not reduce a student’s value and worth to their score on one test that only covers specific reading and mathematical topics. 

It is also important to recognize that not all students are given the same experience in AP classes or on SAT tests. Schools in underserved communities often do not have as many AP classes designed to prepare students for AP tests as some wealthier schools do. Even if they do, not all schools prepare students for the exam in a way that is equivalent and students who are given a lesser quality education are expected to perform just as well as their peers who receive better instruction on AP exams. The same thing goes for SATs, students in different schools are taught different sets of curriculum in different ways, yet all students are expected to take the same test in order to stand out to selective colleges. Students who come from wealthy families are often able to afford to take more AP classes, to purchase materials to study for SATs, or to hire tutors to increase their potential SAT scores. All of these students who come from different backgrounds and who respond to standardized testing in different ways cannot possibly be expected to all take the same test and end up with a score that is reflective of their true intelligence. 

It is clear that the College Board is flawed; while their mission to help students transition from high school to college smoothly is admirable, they do not actually achieve this. Instead, they create barriers that make college applications not only more complicated, but also more expensive. In order for the College Board to live up to its supposed goals, the organization needs to make sure that their AP exams are affordable and accessible to all students; more colleges also need to become “test-blind”, meaning that they will no longer consider the College Board’s SAT scores at all, but instead will look at the GPA, extracurricular activities, and personal traits of students that make them qualified to attend their school.