College Board’s stated goal is to “connect students to college success.” The SAT dominates the college entrance exam market, and College Board administered it to 6.7 million students in 2017. Durango High School dedicates entire classes to passing it with flying colors. AP courses are touted as the leading way to prepare oneself for college, and the student transcripts benefit from AP courses listed on them.
In 2016 alone, College Board, a 501(c)(3) registered non-profit, made $904,834,000 in operational revenue, and an additional $41,900,000 from investments and other non-operating income. Of this collective $946,734,000 College Board listed $898,172,000 of expenses, and collected a profit of $48,562,000.
What’s more, College Board has investments (equity, real estate, etc.) that total $658,649,000 in value. This adds up to the total assets of College Board: $1,134,642,000 up $54,339,000 from last year. It’s difficult to imagine a nonprofit organization needing real estate investments, or accumulating over a billion dollars worth of assets from student money.
College Board is able to make its money off a both monopolized and critical market: students looking to do well in college will almost inevitably require some of College Board’s material. The SAT is the most widely accepted college-entrance exam across the U.S. and in an increasingly competitive society, students look to AP classes to distinguish themselves.
Last year, 522 students took the AP exam at DHS. At $94 per exam, College Board received just under $50,000 from DHS students. Reduced exam fees bring this total down slightly. The number of students in AP classes is increasing as well. 2017 AP Test administration was up 220 students from the previous year.
Darren Tarshis, assistant Principal and head of AP courses at DHS, believes that AP classes are worth it.
“Yes it’s a monopoly, but their product is a good one,” said Tarshis. It’s true that College Board has refined their tests and courses to a science, and they are an unchanging standard.
“Any high school can call something Honors English, but an AP calculus class is the same anywhere in the world,” said Tarshis.
The advantages of a single testing entity are evident to colleges, says Mr. Tarshis. “Colleges don’t have to distinguish between four or five different standards because College Board is the only standard in the market,” said Tarshis.
The question, then, is whether or not an AP course, or the SAT is worth the enormous amount of time, energy, and dedication that is required from a student. Sheridan Brull, AP Lit and Comp teacher at DHS, argues that AP courses build more learning into a course than a normal english class.
“I think the the rigor of an AP course teaches my students to be disciplined, hard workers. The AP exam for my class requires that you really have learned something in the class,” said Brull.
Brull finds that there is worth in an AP course that goes beyond the material gains of a stellar transcript.
“They’re skill based tests, You can’t just memorize a bunch of stuff. You have to read well and write well,” said Brull.
Thomas Grist, AP physics teacher at DHS, agreed.
“The questions are based off how to use information, not just what you could get on Google,” said Grist.
The difference between Mr. Grist’s physics classes, AP and not lies in the breadth of the subject material.
“[AP classes have] more depth, yes,” he said, “But in regular physics we teach more subjects… I cover more things that I think would be interesting and useful in life, as opposed to AP which is a set curriculum.”
College Board produces good products that help students and schools across the U.S. Their business borders on a monopoly, but that is not without its advantages. The lack of competing standards for College entrance simplifies the vetting of potential students, but this comes at a cost.
The products that College Board offers currently are high quality and accepted across the nation. If that quality ever slides, however, there may be consequences as we find that we can’t extract ourselves from the monopoly that is College Board.