Morgan Ryan


16 May, 2023

An organization that made $1.1 billion in 2019 is considered a “non-profit organization.” They pay their CEO seven figures, claiming to help students succeed, gain the “college experience,” and get them into their dream school. But all of this “help” comes out of students’ pockets.

“Its tests, which have a stranglehold on their student-customers, fuel more than $1 billion in annual revenue and $100 million in untaxed surplus. It has $400 million invested with hedge funds and private equity, and its chief executive, McKinsey-trained David Coleman, 50, pulls down compensation of almost $2 million a year,” according to a Forbes article about the SAT.

It has been drilled into students’ minds since the beginning of high school that, in order to “be successful,”  they must take standardized tests . Most students who take AP classes start in their sophomore year. Being an AP student is costly. My family has shelled out about $665 over my high school career for AP exams alone (I did not take the SAT, I applied test-optional).

The College Board is registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, meaning it is considered a public serving organization. However, overcharging students for exams that are almost necessary to go to college does not seem like a public service: it’s a business.

Deciding whether or not it is financially worth it to take an AP exam can be a tough choice for families to make. But the College Board doesn’t seem to care. In fact, this year they pushed the registration deadline earlier to force students to decide before they even get a feel for whether they think they will do well in the class. AP students had to register in October this year, unlike in the past when it occurred in the early spring semester. “The early registration creates financial burdens and forces students to make decisions too soon,” said Kayla Hoang in a Los Angeles Times High School Insider article.

Fees are the main aspect of the College Board’s income. As of the writing of this article, each AP exam costs $95 with a $40 additional late fee and a cancellation fee of another $40. Additionally, sending scores to a college is another $15 per college. The SAT is not cheap either; according to The Real College Board, a website created to shed light on aspects of the College Board that aren’t widely discussed, “for a student to get the premium package of the SAT with an essay, registered late, called to get scores over the phone and had the essay and multiple choice looked over twice by hand, it would cost $233 dollars, before sending scores to a single school.”

On top of the exam costs, most families pay for tutors or prep books, which adds even more expense for a number on a piece of paper. “Many are under the impression that the College Board’s products equate to success, so they turn to tutors and preparation classes that charge thousands of dollars,” said the Los Angeles Times.

Another profit gusher for the Board is their student database. According to Forbes, in 2018 the database produced more than $100 million in revenue with a gross margin of 41%. “For 47 cents per test taker, College Board “leases” student data, including ethnicity, religion, gender and their parents’ educational backgrounds, to colleges and other third parties. The practice initiates an onslaught of promotional mailings and brochures that students’ families must endure in the years leading up to admission,” said Forbes.

The College Board elects to be opaque about where the money from these tests go. Other non-profits such as St. Jude also made over $1.1 billion in revenue in 2019, but they are clear on where their money goes: cancer research. The College Board on the other hand doesn’t appear to be as transparent with the public unless they look. They have increased their fees and test costs, all while their profits have increased. “Every year between 2007 and 2019 the College Board has made a profit of between 37 and 139 million dollars. In 2019, the College Board had a profit of 58 million dollars, with 38 million coming from investments alone,” said The Real College Board.

One clear destination for all of that money is salaries. “Only one of its 18 listed officers made less than $300,000 in 2018. Eleven, including the chief of “membership, governance and global higher ed,” earned more than $500,000,” according to Forbes.

In slight defense of the College Board, creating these exams isn’t free. “Each [SAT] test costs nearly $2 million to construct, according to former staffers, and to prevent cheating, a completely new test must be created for each of 12 annual sittings in the U.S. and overseas. Composing the 154 questions that make up each exam involves an elaborate two-year process,” according to Forbes. So while charging a fee for the tests makes sense to a degree, the high costs of the test, large leader salaries, and private investments don’t.

With the SAT and AP scores being near requirements to get into college, it’s hard to avoid the College Board’s grasp. They hold a monopoly on the education field, forcing students to pay to take their tests, which do not guarantee college credit or admission. The College Board just enjoys adding onto their pile of money at the cost of the very people they claim to help.

Posted by Morgan Ryan

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