It’s time to fail the College Board

The College Board could not score a 3 on its own exams


Courtesy of the College Board

The College Board’s educational tyranny is unacceptable, writes Addison Schmidt.

Addison Schmidt, Environment Editor

If you’ve ever taken a College Board exam, you know that the memes afterward are hardly sufficient entertainment to make up for the torment that is the high school student’s academic equivalent of an Ironman. 

Still, my own arduous experience of taking more than 15 College Board exams is hardly where my qualms with the organization end. In the wake of the recent decision to change curricular requirements in the newly minted Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies course in order to appease the Florida Department of Education’s ban, influenced by Gov. Ron DeSantis, I believe it is time for Americans to consider the role that a privately-held, tax-exempt and non-profit organization plays in the education of our nation’s children, especially in public schools. 

As many college students are all too familiar with, it is almost impossible to attend a contemporary American public school and not take an AP course if one hopes to gain admission into a top university. At my public high school in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School District, it was apparent to me from my freshman year that the key to college admissions was enrollment and success in AP courses and a strong score on the SAT. 

Wake Forest led the way for other top universities when it stopped requiring SAT or ACT scores in 2009, and the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically shifted the college admissions landscape by relegating standardized testing to many universities’ lowest priority, but the future of standardized testing remains unclear. In January 2022, the College Board announced that the SAT will be conducted exclusively online beginning in spring 2024, indicating that perhaps even the organization itself has begun to acknowledge the exam’s failed efficacy.

While the value of the SAT dwindles, the popularity of the AP program shows no indication of slowing down. According to the College Board, nearly 35% of United States public high school graduates in the class of 2021 had taken at least one AP exam upon their graduation. 

Given that the cost of AP exams is currently $97 per exam ($88 per exam for public school students), the financial burden of these courses can be significant for some low-income students, though state policies on payment vary widely. 

While the College Board provides a $35 reduction fee for qualifying students, the cost remains a significant $53 per exam in states like Missouri that do not supplement the cost of AP exams for students at all. This means that a student in Missouri taking four AP courses in one year would be required to pay around $212 —or the equivalent of around 18 hours worth of work under Missouri’s $12 hourly minimum wage — in order to afford to take AP exams and gain any potential college credit. This is a significant sacrifice for any low-income student’s family to make without even considering the fact that multiple children in the family may be taking exams in the same year.

If American society truly touts public education as “the great equalizer” — an already questionable statement given our history and the variance of education in different states and schools — is it fair to place such an undue burden upon those students who already face an uphill battle to college enrollment as a result of their income? 

With the legality of affirmative action at the forefront of this year’s Supreme Court docket, many students of color may be set back even farther in the coming years if the policy is overturned as expected. Coupled with the reality that Black and Latino Americans are more likely than other groups to be impoverished, cost barriers to AP courses present yet another barrier for students of color when it comes to receiving a higher education. 

As Americans, we cannot pretend to provide equal opportunity to all children given our current system, let alone an equitable one.

While cost is one significant factor in my distaste for the College Board, the near monopoly that the organization has on college-level education for high school students is another issue. Because there is virtually no competition for the organization on a national level aside from the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which is less popular and more intensive, both cost and curricular requirements are virtually unregulated. 

Take, for example, the Florida situation. If, as many may argue, the point of a private organization creating set curriculums for college-level classes for high schoolers is uniformity and depoliticization, how can the College Board be reasonably defended for removing keystone concepts like intersectionality, the Black Lives Matter movement and reparations within the course after continuous correspondence with Florida education officials throughout the course creation process? 

Each of the concepts mentioned above is controversial, but they are also salient in our increasingly divisive and polarized political environment. Additionally, according to the New York Times, the vast majority of college African American Studies courses offer education on these topics. If the point of AP courses is to be the equivalent of an entry-level college course, it is evident that political and monetary motivations have stymied that goal in the case of African American studies.

When it comes to the introduction of courses, it is also important to note that the College Board is solely responsible for deciding which courses it offers. In the case of AP African American Studies, the course was only created following pressure after protests over the death of George Floyd in 2020. If the goal of course offerings is to make money, scholarship and education are put on the back burner. 

As a private company where the CEO made more than $2.5 million in 2020 despite financial turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is evident that the College Board’s primary goal is financial gain. The existence of AP courses is to make profit, not to educate students. 

Like many people, I struggle to conceptualize a viable solution to the issue of the College Board. I directly benefited from my involvement in the AP program, a fact that I readily admit, but my situation would likely be much different if I had been born into a low-income family, was a person of color or did not live in a state that pays for all students to take AP exams. 

As Americans, we must acknowledge that the structure of our public education system is inherently inequitable, especially when it comes to providing opportunities for high school students to earn college credit. 

Whether the answer to the College Board problem is increased oversight via non-partisan regulation by the federal Department of Education or an increase in access to dual-enrollment community college courses, something must be done to ensure that those who want it can access high-quality, college-level courses in schools.