The College Board’s Monopoly on Education

Monopoly game board but with things about the College Board on it
The College Board depicted as a game of Monopoly (Walker Lina)

$840,672,990. That is how much revenue the College Board generated in 2014, according to their 990 tax form. Capitalizing on the stress of high school students is what this faux nonprofit is in the business of.

Avoiding the College Board as a high school student is virtually impossible. At many public high schools, racking up Advanced Placement (AP) credits is essential if you wish to have a competitive class rank and GPA when it comes time for college applications. AP level curriculum is designed by the College Board to supposedly prepare students for college-level courses. Making a good grade in these classes will boost your GPA more than an honors level class at many public high schools.

At the end of the school year, every student across the country who took a particular AP class completes the corresponding AP exam for that class. Depending on your exam score, at most colleges, you might be granted course credit or exemptions from general education requirements. College Board generates the bulk of its revenue from AP examination testing fees.

As of 2018, each AP exam costs $94 to take, with the price rising by a dollar or two each year. In 2016, a total of 4,704,980 AP exams were administered by the College Board to high school students. That adds up to over $425,000,000 in revenue strictly from AP exams. Sadly, no alternative organizations are able to compete with the College Board’s AP program. There is International Baccalaureate (IB), but only 1,680 schools across the United States offered this program in 2016, compared to the 21,953 that offered AP the same year.

The College Board also dictates what information is taught in AP classrooms, as well as how it is taught. The control over high school curriculum can be seen in their course outline for the AP U.S. History exam. Teachers are told exactly what to teach and how to teach it. There are similar outlines for the other 37 AP courses. To avoid backlash from school administrators, educators must teach their students to the exam, rather than having the freedom to design their own course. In AP courses, the primary goal is to get as high a score as possible, which is a number between 1 and 5.

From what my former AP teachers have told me, many of them are questioned by school administrations at the end of each school year about why their students did not score higher, regardless of how well they actually did. It does not matter how high or low a teacher’s students actually scored, they will still be pressed by their administration. Schools have gotten so wrapped up in ensuring that students score well on exams, that sometimes they forget to make sure students are actually learning valuable information in the classroom. Advanced Placement classes are not the only problem with the College Board, though.

Nearly every college in the United States requires the submission of a standardized test as part of the application process. The SAT, which is one of those tests, is created by the College Board. It also generates a significant amount of money for them. SAT used to stand for “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” until they realized that it did not actually measure your scholastic aptitude. Then, they changed it to “Scholastic Assessment Test,” but later found out that the words assessment and test mean the exact same thing. Now, there is no meaning behind the name, SAT.

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Over 5 million students take this test each school year. It costs $46 to sign up for it or $60 to do it with the essay (which most students do). Signing up a day or two late? That’s an extra $29. Changing the test date, test location, or test type? That’s another $29. It costs $15 to sign up over the phone. After you take the test and receive your scores, it is time to send them off to colleges along with your application. It costs $12 to send your SAT scores to each college or university you apply to. Some schools might even require that you submit two or three SAT subject tests, which are short, one-hour tests on specific subjects. Those cost $26 for the first test and $18 for each additional test that you wish to take on the same day. It can get costly, especially if you take multiple tests.

Taking all of these standardized tests can be quite stressful, but worry no more! The College Board is gracious enough to sell subject test prep books for $20 each and SAT prep books for $30.

Each test created by the College Board contains a question that asks if you would like them to connect you with colleges and scholarship programs through their Student Search Service. Many students mark “yes” in this box, but what most people do not realize is that they are actually selling their personal information to colleges. As it turns out, they are not connecting you with colleges out of the kindness of their hearts. Some people might not even care that they are doing this. I for one would rather not be misled and have my personal information sold. On their tests, they do not explicitly state that they will sell your information and they do not even declare it on their website until you dig deep. The only thing they say is that they will connect you with colleges and scholarships.

On their website, they claim that they do not sell student information:

The College Board does not sell student data. Through Student Search Service, students may participate in a voluntary program that connects students with information about educational and financial aid opportunities from nearly 1700 colleges, universities, scholarship programs and educational organizations.

But on a different page, it is revealed that a “licensing fee” can be purchased. Is there really a difference between selling student data and selling a license fee to access student data?

The College Board does not sell student information. Students can voluntarily opt in to our Student Search Service. Qualified colleges, universities, nonprofit scholarship services, and educational organizations pay a license fee to use this information to recruit students and manage enrollment in connection with educational or scholarship programs.

They even provide the rates colleges can pay for each student’s name and contact information:College board data

All of these services and products are just the ways that they make money; I have not even discussed the ways that they spend it—which is equally, if not more frustrating.

Legally, the College Board holds not-for-profit status, despite the extremely large profit that they make and the fact that they operate like a for-profit company. The only thing that separates them from any given company on the Fortune 500 is that they do not have to pay any taxes. David Coleman, College Board’s CEO and “the architect” of Common Core (something I will talk about in a later article), is making huge earnings. According to Reuters, Coleman is making almost $900,000 in salary and benefits and has about a dozen different offices. Why is the CEO of a non-profit making nearly a million dollars a year? 23 executives at this organization are making an average salary of $355,271.

Before Coleman took over as head of the College Board, the former governor of West Virginia, Gaston Caperton, was leading the company. Caperton was making a salary of $1.3 million prior to stepping down as CEO.

Considering the College Board’s mission of preparing students for college, I would not think that they would pay their executives such an unreasonable amount of money. Many students are not even able to afford AP exams, the SAT, or subject tests. Maybe if they did not compensate their executives with such exorbitant salaries and focused on their mission rather than driving up profits, then they could lower the fees for their tests and prepare even more students for college classes.

But even if exam fees were lowered, resulting in increased access, a significant gap between income classes would still exist. Middle and upper-class students will generally have better scores because they are able to afford expensive test preparation classes, tutors, and practice books. Families that are barely able to afford the College Board’s fees are not going to invest hundreds of dollars in test prep that they would normally spend on basic necessities.

One organization has the power to dictate high school curriculum, forcing teachers to prepare their students to do well on the exam rather than what they think is important. Most students have a desire to go to college, and this nonprofit makes hundreds of millions of dollars off of those wishes. Then, they pay their highest ranking employees six-figure salaries and spend several hundred thousands of dollars on lobbying each year. Their AP program has no competition, and the SAT’s only competitor is the ACT.

This is a complicated issue, and there is no single way to solve it. But the College Board’s monopoly on high school education and testing needs to be addressed. For starters, the IRS needs to seriously consider revoking the College Board’s nonprofit status.

For those of you that want to learn more about this, I recommend watching this video:

About Campbell Turner 3 Articles
Founding President, BiPolitics. University of Virginia '22. Interests: international affairs, government, entrepreneurship.

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