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The College Board: A For-Profit Corporate Entity That Needs to be Treated as Such

Graphic by Riley ’20

The latest in over a century of well-documented greed, the College Board has again put profits over people in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While GCSEs, A levels and IB exams were canceled, the College Board’s refusal to refund students their $100 per AP exam will result in continued exam administration. Adding insult to injury, the College Board website does not indicate that exam prices will be reduced even though their overhead will be: many of the virtual exams are just one-quarter as long as the full-length exam for which students paid.

The College Board needs to be stripped of its nonprofit, tax-exempt status and exposed for what it is: a for-profit corporate entity.

In a statement to CNN, the College Board said: “The College Board is a not-for-profit membership organization…We do not generate profits or ‘make money.’” Public financial records tell a very different story. In 2017, the College Board amassed over a billion dollars in revenue and, all expenses considered, accrued $140 million in profits. The College Board separately holds over $1.1 billion in cash and investments, a quarter billion of which is vaguely labeled as “other financial vehicles” and stashed in offshore tax havens like the Cayman and the British Virgin Islands.

The College Board needs to be stripped of its nonprofit, tax-exempt status and exposed for what it is: a for-profit corporate entity.

Like for-profit companies, the College Board peddles goods at prices that do not correspond to their true value. It’s already hard to defend the $49.50 price tag on an SAT exam consisting solely of a Scantron that is not graded by hand. The College Board’s attempts to swindle teenage test-takers do not end there. The College Board charges an extra $15 for the essay portion, $30 for signing up a day late, $15 for signing up over the phone, $53 for waitlist registration and $30 for changing the test date or location. The College Board’s SAT Prep Book is more expensive than comparable books sold by for-profit companies like Kaplan and the Princeton Review.

As SAT-takers shuffle out of the testing room with empty pockets, the ride exits through the figurative gift shop. Students are charged $15 per call to receive their scores over the phone and $12 per college or university to which the College Board must digitally send scores ($31 per school for rush order). The College Board website recommends that students take the SAT “at least twice,” in addition to multiple AP exams and SAT II Subject Tests.

Not yet done wringing money out of millions of students desperate for college admission, the College Board sells students’ email and home addresses from their AP, PSAT and SAT Scantrons to colleges and universities for 47 cents apiece. A case study in corporate doublespeak, the College Board states that they “do not sell student information,” but rather accept “license fees to use this information.” A page buried deep on their own website refers to students as “transactional names” and sells access to their “commercial marketing list” in three so-called “tiers”: “per name,” “lite” and “unlimited.”

Does this revenue flow to “services that support our mission” as the College Board claims? Based on public financial records, it depends on what exactly that mission is.

The College Board spends a few hundred thousand dollars a year on political lobbying, blatantly disregarding the IRS order that non-profits “may not attempt to influence legislation.”

Policymakers and citizens alike must critically interrogate the College Board’s veneer of altruism and expose our meritocratic overlord as the money-grubbing corporation it is.

While the IRS mandates that non-profits “must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, such as the creator or the creator’s family, shareholders of the organization, or other designated individuals,” the former and current College Board CEOs both enjoyed nearly $2 million salaries, while the president receives almost $1 million.

Like those at for-profit corporations, College Board trustees maintain a high degree of control over the College Board’s resources including “unrestricted net assets” valued over $700 million. In an incredibly surprising turn of events, much of this money finds its way into trustees’ pockets. Eight members of College Board leadership were recently awarded $3.4 million in severance. In 2016, 21 College Board employees’ salaries totaled $10.7 million.

Lots of CEOs and trustees earn enormous salaries. However, since the College Board masquerades as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, it is entirely tax-exempt. Policymakers and citizens alike must critically interrogate the College Board’s veneer of altruism and expose our meritocratic overlord as the money-grubbing corporation it is.

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