Through the SAT, opportunity comes at a literal price.
The promise of education taking you anywhere may still be true. Who can get that education, however, continues to be a huge societal problem. Year by year, tuition and application fees grow exorbitantly, as students and parents struggle to balance the present and the future. Even before college tuition stares the average family in the face, the college process begins with the SAT.
The SAT was founded by Harvard and 11 other universities in 1900. The goal was to create a standardized test to admit students based on merit rather than family connections. The SAT now is considered a important factor in acceptance for nearly all universities in the United States.
Many have regarded it as the fairest way to testing aptitude because it disregards the differences in education levels. Pro-SAT argue that while different schools may teach different curriculum, the SAT test provides a equal playing field for comparison that grades alone cannot provide. Unfortunately, SAT advocates miss a important flaw in SAT testing- the economic ways people can enhance their score. From taking the 75 dollar test repeatedly to purchasing the correct answers from your test, the ways to inflate your score reside in the ability to fund your endeavors. More importantly, College Board cashes in the process.
Gaston Caperton, College Board CEO from 1999 to 2011, has been responsible for many of the overhauls in the SAT process. “The College Board’s commitment to education was the impetus for every initiative we have undertaken during the past decade,” Caperton said in a 2011 New York Times article.
Caperton stated that he didn’t just want to run “a testing company,” when he took over in 1999. His desire instead, was to build a thriving education business around the idea of testing. In the previously mention New York Times article, Caperton stated, “I happen to believe whether you’re running a government or you’re running a not-for-profit that you have to run it in a business-like way.”Under Caperton’s leadership, SAT prices rose from 23.50 in 1999 to 50 in 2011. By 2009, College Board had amassed a net worth of 436 million, the second largest net worth of any non-profit entity (only second to the Boy Scouts). The “non-for-profit” juggernaut, made 53 million dollars of profit in 2009. Caperton himself made over 850,000 thousand in 2009. In that same year, College Board spend over 750,000 in lobbying and handed out salaries of over 200,000 to 19 of their employees, including Caperton.
Caperton and College Board didn’t profit from simply selling their test or even from selling test materials. College Board built its marketing around the idea that “this test means everything”. They sold the dream of a great score, as well as the nightmare of a poor one. The marketing of this mentality, has spurred a whole new demand (and College Board offered supply) for SAT boosters and add-ons. According to a Bloomberg News article, “Those who want to rush results to a college pay $30 extra for the first school and $10.50 for each additional college,” From selling their materials, like the 69.99 SAT online study guide and the online test answer key, to mandating a student pay a fee to send their score to a college you apply to (as if you were to do something different with it), the College Board has taken advantage of students and parents alike.
According to a Columbia Spectator article, over 7 million students take College Board tests each year. This figure reflects a 300 percent increase under Caperton’s watch. This number is truly staggering when we consider that there were 3.2 million high school graduates in 2009, many of whom were not bound for college. The statistics show that the custom of taking a College Board test has been ingrained into the educational culture. If this is the case, at the very least, students should at least be rewarded for their consumer confidence and not robbed because of it.
But then again, maybe its only fitting because the College Board is microcosm of the bigger issue in US education- a focus on profit rather than a focus on education.