What does the College Board do with its money?
College Board is making over a billion dollars in revenue every year.
The College Board makes a lot of money. SATs, AP exams, and PSATs all rake in hundreds of millions of dollars for the College Board every year. In the fiscal year of 2019, the College Board made over 1.1 billion dollars in revenue. Now, revenue in itself is not a bad thing. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, another 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, also made over 1.1 billion dollars in revenue in the fiscal year of 2019. However, unlike St Jude, we don't have any real idea about how the College Board uses its money to effectively help its target demographic. But a quick look at their 990 forms of tax exemption shows what they do spend it on.
Fees at Every Turn
Before we talk about how they use their money, let's discuss how they make it. The College Board charges students at every turn. Currently, it costs $95 to take an AP exam. If you register for an AP test anytime after November 14th, that's an extra $40 added on to your cost, and to cancel a test, it's $40. To send your AP exam scores to a college costs $15. So if a student took wanted to send their scores to four colleges, it would cost $60 dollars.
More examples of price gouging can be seen when looking at all the SAT fees. The SAT costs $52 without the essay section and $68 dollars with the essay. To see what questions were answered right or wrong on the SAT, the fee is $18 for the "SAT Question-and-Answer Service." If that is out of a student's price range, the College Board offers the $13.50 "SAT Answer Service" that "provides a list of question types from the specified test you took; whether you answered the question correctly or incorrectly, or omitted the answer; and the level of difficulty." To get SAT scores by phone, the fee is $15, to register late, $30, to verify scores are correct, $55, to verify an essay was graded correctly, $55. However, the cherry on top is that sending SAT scores to colleges, costs $12 per college after the first four.
So, for a student to get the premium package of the SAT with an essay, registered late, called to get scores over the phone and had the essay and multiple choice looked over twice by hand, it would cost $233 dollars, before sending scores to a single school.
It is very unclear how all of these unnecessary fees help "students prepare for a successful transition to college."
All of the exorbitant fee structures charged to students provide for handsome compensation for the College Board's executives, often hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. For example, CEO David Coleman made 1.67 million dollars in 2019. That same year, 9 other members of the College Board made $500,000+ dollars in executive compensation. The College Board is registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization which means it is legally considered a public serving company. Yet, its expensive tests are funding the deep pockets of board members and officers. As a public serving entity, its members should not be making exorbitant personal gains.
In the year 2007, the College Board's net assets were worth 565 million dollars. Only twelve years later, in 2019, their net assets were worth 1.56 billion dollars. That's an increase of over 995 million dollars, or a growth percentage of 276%. So why is the College Board raising prices and adding fees when each year their cash and investment pool grows? Every year between 2007 and 2019 the College Board has made a profit of between 37 and 139 million dollars. In 2019, the College Board had a profit of 58 million dollars, with 38 million coming from investments alone.
What is more striking than the organization's profit margins is its foreign investments. Between 2011 and 2019, the College Board has invested over 1.32 billion dollars in the Caribbean. Mostly likely, these investments were put into hedge funds in the Cayman Islands in order to take advantage of tax loopholes. (The College Board has not disclosed where in the Caribbean its investments are going, just the general region). And although this is legal, why is a public serving nonprofit investing in the Caribbean and not in the US? And even though the College Board has not been investing in the US, it is still receiving money from the US government. In 2019, it acquired 6.07 million dollars worth of government grants. The College Board uses the money that it makes from these investments to compete in competitive markets. For example, in 2016, the College Board undercut its competitor ACT Inc by 15.4 million dollars to get a state contract in Michigan. As Richard Phelps of the Nonpartisan Educational Review points out, "a foreign firm bidding below cost for a US contract below would risk exposure to an unfair trade practice lawsuit." The College Board makes enormous profits in the Caribbean, investing in undisclosed funds, avoiding tax liability and receives US government grants, yet avoids closer scrutiny of its business practices.
Is the College Board's Money Used for Students?
In 2007, about 2 million students attended a college or university. In 2019, 2.1 million attended. The increase is statistically negligible, especially when factoring in population growth. The only thing that has seen massive increase is the number of students taking College Board tests. In 2007, 2.5 million students took an AP exam. By 2019, the number was 5 million. In 2007, 1.5 million students took the SAT. By 2019, 2.2 million did. And while more students began to take these tests, the College Board decided to increase the prices and add unnecessary fees. The College Board used the increase in test takers as an opportunity to exploit them.
The reality is, it is unclear what the College Board does with its money. The College Board makes it extremely difficult to look at what it invests in and how it uses its overheads (I even tried to interview them about it but they refused to talk). The College Board has the moral obligation to be more transparent due to its classification as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. The College Board's lack of financial transparency and dubious foreign investments lead to the conclusion it is a for-profit company. In the end, the College Board just wants to throw more money on the pile, over and over again.