by Jessica Zhang, Staff Writer, April 2021
As generation after generation of high school students enter junior and senior year, they must endure the standardized testing that comes with the daunting college admissions process. Students become well-acquainted with the College Board, a not-for-profit organization that has become a cornerstone for college admissions in the past few decades. This organization is an inescapable aspect of high-school life due to its administration of the SAT, PSAT, Advanced Placement (AP) exams, and up until recently, SAT subject tests. However, underneath its guise of supporting students and their futures, the College Board is actually an exploitative business with a monopoly on higher education test-taking that perpetuates class inequalities.
In recent years, the College Board has annually made over $1 billion in revenue and $100 million in untaxed profit, has over $400 million invested in hedge funds and private equity and is under the jurisdiction of a chief executive who earns nearly $2 million a year. That seems like a lot of money for a not-for-profit whose mission, according to their website, is to “expand opportunities for those who face financial barriers to college enrollment and success, and increase both equity and efficiency of the federal investment in higher education.” But they usually only provide fee waivers to those on government assistance, leaving many other students to struggle with the costs. Perhaps the College Board is creating the very financial barriers they purportedly seek to mitigate.
Despite what they claim online, the College Board’s main goal is to make as much money as possible, which leads to an unequal system that greatly favors the wealthy. They capitalize on the obsession with admittance into elite colleges and the lack of competition from other test providers by creating the perception that they provide the only way to succeed in the college admissions process.
Because it’s nearly impossible for students not to use their system, the College Board is able to set unreasonably high prices on each test they provide. Furthermore, they provide a multitude of other services that require extra fees, such as rushing a score report, the “Question-and-Answer Service,” changing an exam date, or sending test scores to colleges. The costs of these services are not waived for low-income students, giving students from affluent families an unfair advantage in the college process. Additionally, a billion-dollar test prep industry has been built up around the College Board’s exams, which provide even greater advantages to higher-income students. Although their website says they value providing equality in higher education, the College Board’s actions prove otherwise.
The College Board’s recent attempt to handle the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic further revealed their prioritization of profit at the expense of students. When the pandemic started shutting down the country in March of 2020, the College Board was forced to stop administering the SAT for safety reasons. However, as restrictions started lifting, they decided to allow local test centers to make their own decisions as to whether or not to administer the SAT. While this gave some students the opportunity to take the SAT, it leftover one million students with test center cancellations or capacity reductions. The reduced capacity at test centers caused numerous hours of study time and money spent on tutors to be wasted. Many students who had spent months preparing for their tests were only notified of last-minute cancellations less than 24 hours before, while some weren’t notified at all.
Additionally, the College Board struggled to adapt their AP exams to the online format. Many students took tests at unusual hours, with some students from certain time zones starting at 6:00 AM and others working into the middle of the night. Furthermore, unequal access to good testing conditions hindered the quality of many test-taking experiences, and thousands of examinees had to retake some exams in June because of technical issues. Why didn’t the College Board just cancel the tests? Well, to continue making money, of course.
It is also questionable how accurately the test scores given by the College Board can predict a student’s level of success in college. Last year’s AP exams were supposed to test a year’s worth of learning in 45 minutes, so students’ scores often reflected the luck they had in which version of a test they received, rather than how much they truly knew. Also, with the “Operation Varsity Blues” admissions scandal, deep cracks in the testing system have been revealed. There are a multitude of ways for students or their parents to work around the tests and generate scores that aren’t truly representative of the students’ abilities. Yet again, this unfair advantage is given to affluent families.
With all the problems that the College Board creates, changes finally seem to be coming to the standardized testing aspect of the college admissions process. For the Class of 2021, most schools became test-optional, demonstrating the possibility of an admissions process without standardized testing. Even before the pandemic, many schools were starting to place less of an emphasis on standardized tests. The University of California (UC) system was one of them, and in May of last year, it decided to start permanently phasing out the SAT and ACT as it works to develop its own testing standard.
The trend of placing less importance on the SAT and ACT is a step in the right direction for colleges and universities. But because it seems unlikely that the College Board will change in any way that truly allows for equality in their testing system, it may be up to the colleges themselves to remove testing requirements in order to allow for a socioeconomically fair college process.