The College Board: Paving the way for a lifetime of debt

Credit: The Atlantic

It’s 8 am on a Friday and at thousands of High Schools throughout the United States kids flood into gyms, cafeterias, and classrooms. They’re not going to a class to learn, talk to their teachers, or even interact with friends. These kids are walking into these classrooms because they paid $90 to sit in a room for anywhere between two and four hours to take a test. Worse yet, this has been happening for the past two weeks, with some kids taking two tests a day at $90 a pop. These are Advanced Placement (AP) tests, which aim to create a standardized framework around evaluating the performance of kids in AP classes. These classes are seen to represent the crème de la crème of many high school’s course offerings. They’re competitive to get into, and competitive to stay in. This article isn’t about those courses, and it’s not about the kids who’s parents sometimes shell out $1,170 for their kids to take 13 tests.

It’s about the College Board; that mysterious organization that has such a big effect on college admissions. The College Board owns and is tasked with administration of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), SAT Subject Tests (which some schools require, many see as supplementary and almost all accept), AP Tests, the PSAT/NMSQT (Practice SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test), the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS Profile), A financial aid sheet submitted to colleges and countless other products which decide which schools your child gets into, whether or not they get credit for college courses taken in high school, how much financial aid they get, and countless other aspects of their education.

Even if we were to assume that the College Board has stayed true to it’s mission statement and seeks only to better it’s students, one thing is clear. The College Board is a monopoly. Like any good monopoly, the College Board has embedded themselves so deep in the American Education system that it is impossible to get into an ivy league school without paying lots of money to take one of their exams. This brings me to my next point: the prices. The costs of these tests are insane by any standard:

  • SAT (with Essay): $60 plus
    - $29 if registering late
    - $29 if changing the testing date
    - $12 per school when sending scores after four free 
    - $31 if rushing scores to a college
    - An additional $55 per section if you believe there was a mistake in scoring
  • AP Exams: $93 plus
    - $45 if registering late
    - $15 per school
  • SAT subject tests: $26 flat fee (without any tests) plus
    - $20 per each test (up to 3 per sitting)
    - $15 per college after 4 colleges
  • PSAT/NMSQT: $15

These are not optional exams either. The SAT is almost universally considered requisite in applying to college. The AP exams are often required by students enrolled in AP classes, with some students taking them as early as freshman year, and many taking more than 10 over their high school careers. SAT Subject Tests are less widespread, but are also considered a requirement at many top schools, with some schools requiring 2 and recommending 4.

On top of these fees the College Board makes money off things like sending scores to specific colleges, score reports, and prep books. The most offensive fee is, perhaps, the $25 fee for the CSS profile and the additional $16 per college the CSS profile is sent to after the first one. Looking at their budget, it’s clear none of this is necessary. Even with executive compensation dwarfing that of many other organizations the College Board had a $55.1 million surplus in 2006. This level of gross overcharging for services essential for the admission to almost any college is insane. With all of these fees combined the College Board can rake in thousands of dollars from a single student during their high school careers and put financial strain on families who are already looking at a bill of 10’s of thousands of dollars over at least the next four years.

Gaston Caperton: Former College Board CEO

The College Board’s actions, not it’s mission statement demonstrate it’s true intent. The College Board isn’t about providing students access to education, or letting them take “college” courses in high school, or even letting schools evaluate the performance of students (which has been debunked many times). It’s about making money. The College Board exists so men like Gaston Caperton can make $1.3 million/year for making students spend hundreds of hours filling out bubbles. Most importantly, the College Board exists as a facade to help hide what the American system of higher education really is: a money making machine.