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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

The College Board has become indistinguishable from a hedge fund

The College Board is spending money on assets and CEO salaries instead of upholding its mission statement.

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Students take an AP Psychology exam.

Every spring, millions of high school students hunker down in classrooms as they prepare to take Advanced Placement exams. With the ability to award college credit at many universities with a score of three or above, AP exams — which are the culmination of an entire year of college-level coursework — have high stakes and often serve as a major source of stress for students who are preparing to apply for college.

Though standardized tests are supposed to give all students equal opportunity, failure rates are significantly higher among low-income and minority students. If the College Board truly wants to promote equity in education — as their mission statement claims — they should use their exorbitant profits to create new programs that will actually help students succeed in college. 

AP exams are not new to the high school curriculum. The College Board was founded in 1900 with the intent of providing high school students with standardized, college-level courses. They achieved this goal in 1955 with the establishment of the AP program, and they’ve had a monopoly on this program ever since. As a nonprofit organization that has 501(c)(3) status from the IRS, they are exempt from income taxes as long as they are providing a public benefit. 

Today, over 22,000 high schools offer at least one AP course, contributing to the $500 million in revenue that the College Board generated from AP exams alone in 2022. This profit comes from the exorbitant $98 fee they directly charge most students just to take the exams, and there are further costs imposed if students sign up after the Nov. 16 deadline. While the College Board does offer a $36 discount for students with financial need, those who need further assistance are forced to turn to state governments, who paid the College Board $37 million last year to cover fees for low-income students. With the additional revenue they make from SAT fees and selling students’ data, College Board’s 2022 total revenue amounted to over a billion dollars. However, they only spend 10% of this revenue on fee discounts, which raises an important question: Where is the rest of this money going?                                                             

A look at the College Board’s financials reveal that a significant portion of their revenue is being used to build up their assets and lavishly pay executives. With $162 million invested in Caribbean tax havens, net asset growth over 163% since 2011 and CEO David Coleman’s $1.8 million annual salary, the College Board is thriving financially. Legally, nonprofits are only allowed to provide “reasonable” compensation for their employees, yet they spend over $8 million on executive compensation.

The College Board should be using their profits to fulfill their mission of helping more students attend and succeed in college. However, very little progress has been made on this front. Even though the number of AP exams administered has increased almost twofold since 2008, there haven’t been any increases in undergraduate enrollment in this time. Recent research has also proven that taking AP exams does not correlate with higher college GPAs. Aside from their academic association, AP exams can lower students’ confidence in their ability to succeed, as they disproportionately target low-income students who fail the exams 60% of the time, largely due to a lack of necessary preparation resources. 

The College Board is failing to serve the public as a nonprofit. Instead of using their profits to fund financial aid and resources to help low-income students succeed in college, they are releasing reports with heavily scrutinized data in an attempt to defend their AP program and pocket the revenue it brings in. If the College Board truly wants to achieve the goals they laid out, they should redirect the funds that go into out-of-date programs and the pockets of executives. Programs such as scholarships and full fee waivers could go a long way to help break the income barrier that currently exists in our education system, and the College Board should be leading the charge.