SAT or $AT?

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SAT or $AT?

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If you open up the College Board website you’re met with a deceptively colorful page filled with fun little links for students and parents to start preparing for college. Then there’s a cute “About Us” section. “The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity.”

Wait, wait, wait. Back it up. Did this just say not-for-profit organization? No way, surely this must be a mistake. This can not be. After all, the College Board made a $62 million profit in 2013. Let me repeat that. Sixty two million dollar profit and a $200 million revenue, 317% more than the industry average. How’s that for not-for-profit?

The College Board is rolling in so much dough that its owner, Gaston Caperton, makes $1.3 million annually, making even more than the president of Harvard University. Caperton is the one we can thank for the exorbitant profits. He was hired in 1990 to help the College Board transition from the nice, loving organization it used to be to the multimillion dollar corporation it is now. Since then, he’s more than doubled the College Board’s revenue by increasing test prices, expanding AP tests, and selling names of teenagers to colleges.

Now this really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. If you’ve tried to do anything mildly college related recently, the SAT, PSAT, AP Tests, SAT Subject tests, and more, you’ve been directed to one singular source: The College Board.

The College Board has monopolized basically all-things college and is milking students and their poor parents for everything they’ve got. They have the ability to set prices for many of these tests without any sort of competition or regulation, and they’re definitely taking advantage of that.

As a result, the prices for these tests are absolutely ridiculous. The base cost for SAT is $54.50. Keep in mind that most students take the SAT more than once, and this cost doesn’t include things like late fees or score delivery services. Next, the cost for a single AP test is $92. What?!? $92?!? With $92 you could buy 57 hamburgers from In-N-Out. This means that Pres girls could each spend somewhere between $92 and $552 every year just on AP tests. Lastly, SAT Subject tests have a $26 registration fee and an additional $18 for every test you take. With some colleges requiring up to 3 subject tests, students have to pay up to $80 for them.

The College Board seems determined to bankrupt us all before we’re even accepted to college. And that’s exactly where the genius behind the College Board’s business model lies. They play upon the frenzy and anxiety that comes along with the college acceptance process and use it to force students and their families to do and pay whatever necessary just to get in.

A survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling finds that admission test scores are one of the top five  most important aspects of a student’s application, right alongside grades and strength of curriculum. AP tests, a high SAT score, and in some instances SAT Subject tests are all but required to get into elite universities, and the College Board sure knows it.

This boxes students in, forcing them to take the SAT or AP tests no matter what the price is, and anxious parents will naturally oblige because of the exaggerated importance of these tests. This trend is further emphasized as the admissions process continues to become more and more competitive. That’s why the College Board has increased the price of the SAT more than 132% since 1999.

And really, can we blame them? The College Board, no matter how non-profit it claims to be, is just another big business, doing whatever necessary to reduce costs and maximize profits. Since the College Board has virtually no competitors (sure there’s the ACT for admission tests, but there’s literally no one else offering AP tests, PSAT, or SAT Subject Tests), they can inflate costs without losing any customers. That’s the American system, ladies.

But the larger and more ominous side effect of this money-making scheme is the deprivation of opportunities from low income students. Refer back to the College Board’s About Us section for a sec, “The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity.” The origin of the standardized college admissions tests was to create a system to allow students to be admitted based on merit instead of family connections or wealth. It was supposed to allow for students, no matter their socioeconomic status, to have an equal opportunity to attend college.

The College Board should be supporting all students in this endeavor. However, by making the price of tests so high, low-income families may not be able to afford them. Instead of providing opportunities for students, the College Board is taking them away for their own monetary gain. Discouraging low-income students from taking admissions and AP tests plays out on a larger scale as the long-term implications are increased inequality and educational gap.

To be fair, to College Board does offer vouchers for the full or partial cost of some tests. They generally give around $53 million in fee waivers and subsidies for all their programs every year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even come close to solving the problem. First, this isn’t nearly enough to cover all students. Second, the baseline income to qualify excludes a large number of families who need the financial help. For a family of three, annual family income must be below $37,167 to qualify for an AP Test partial fee waiver. However, since average lower-middle income is closer to $42,000, many families who need the aid do not qualify. Lastly, the process for obtaining vouchers is so long and convoluted that even those who may qualify often don’t.

Which begs the question, what is the College Board doing with all that $200 million revenue? If they’re not giving it back to students or say, expediting the time to get back test scores, then the only place it can be and is going is into the boss’ pockets. Here’s a suggestion: maybe divert some of your profits to making a website that can withstand the large volume of students checking their test scores that they waited 1-3 months to get.

In a perfect world, I would tell you all to shun the College Board, boycott their services, and burn all your SAT prep books. Use your AP test as an advocacy platform and write slam poems about their evil ways instead of answering Free Response Questions. But regrettably, I understand this isn’t possible. They’ve dug their nails into the college process so hard that at this point it’s inescapable. So what can we do?  When the enemy is so powerful, there’s only one thing we can do: beat them at their own game.

Go to school, study hard, and get amazing grades. Ace all your AP tests and get a fabulous score on your SAT. Take advantage of everything the College Board offers and get into your dream college, working hard so you can be rich and successful. Then (and here’s the really crucial step), take over the College Board. Use your newfound power to reform the system, reallocate the exorbitant revenue, and start promoting some actual educational equality. Go, fight, win.

Check out the College Board’s IRS tax returns for yourself here!

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