Only a few blocks from Wall Street lies the home of an organization with a far-reaching grasp over high school students. At first glance, the building looks like an investment bank, or perhaps a corporate headquarters. But for college-bound students around the nation, 45 Columbus Ave. is the home of an all-too-familiar institution¯the College Board.
The College Board is a nonprofit organization that manages a variety of standardized tests, including the SAT, PSAT, and the AP exams. In addition, the board offers the CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which many schools use in determining the extent of a student's financial-aid.
With such a dominant role in the college-entrance process, it is not surprising that the organization is often labeled as a monopoly. And such claims do have their validity. More students take the SAT as opposed to the ACT, especially those students on the East and West coasts. More students take AP classes instead of enrolling in International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum. Though the importance of the PSAT in the college application process is limited (essentially, the test qualifies you for a few scholarships and puts you on the mailing list of some colleges), it has virtually no substitute.
A few years ago the College Board brought back a system called Score Choice. With Score Choice a student may send his or her highest Critical Reading, Writing, and Math SAT scores to colleges, even if those scores come from different testing experiences. This system gives students the incentive to take the SAT over and over again to improve their composite scores. Obviously, each time the student takes the test, the student must fork over the $45 fee to the College Board.
Financially, the College Board does seem to a little too cash-laden. Its CEO is former governor of West Virginia, Mr. Gaston Capterton. His salary is $830,083 a year, far above the industry average for an executive of a nonprofit organization. According to the College Board's IRS form (available for download online) the company had a revenue last year of $55 million, with 9.5% of that profits. In 2007 nearly $800,000 was spent on political lobbying. Again, for a nonprofit organization even of this magnitude, such figures are over-the-top.
Irresponsibility on the part of educational organizations is another story to tell. However, Bruce J. Poch, vice president and dean of admissions at Pomona College, sums up the College Board's irresponsibility in this context quite well. "Everybody appears to be telling half-truths, and that erodes confidence in the College Board…It looks like they hired the people who used to do the books for Enron."
However the real issue facing students is not they are complicit in the creation of a "monopoly." On a day-to-day basis students want their lives to run as smoothly as possible. In addition, students simply want to get into a good college.
Well, imagine trying to get into college with no College Board. Imagine in its place dozens of companies that all have the function of the College Board, but are much smaller in scale. Suppose there were six or seven college-entrance exams to choose from, instead of two. Suppose some of your friends took AP courses and other took "XY" classes, and yet others enrolled in "PQ" classes. Suppose that you had to take a separate test for each college you applied to. What if the principles of free-marketism so complicated the road towards college? Without a College Board you would have more hard choices to make ¯ that is for sure.
There are flaws in the College Board, and these flaws should be made known and addressed. And the College Board is not the only one to blame. The ACT and more so the Educational Testing Services (ETS) are worst off in terms of excessive salaries and profits. But as a whole, this organization is yet another giant octopus which we tolerate for convenience's sake. Students will always want to go to college, and always seek to move upward in society. Thus, there will continue to be a high demand for services like the College Board. The game is rigged. So the next time you pay the $9.50 fee to send your SAT scores (digitally) to a college, or take those AP exams in May, or see the blue apple logo of the College Board, think about whether you are really paying for an education.
The Teen Wire provides a perspective on today's youth, in the face of a changing world. Daniel Morizono, a senior at San Ramon Valley High School and news editor of the Wolfprint can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.