College prep is big business for College Board

By Marsha Sutton

The College Board, founded in 1900, has become synonymous with college readiness programs for high school students. Composed of more than 5,400 schools, colleges, universities and other educational organizations, each year College Board, according to its mission statement, serves 7 million students and parents, 23,000 high schools and 3,500 colleges.

Programs including the PSAT, SAT, SAT II subject tests and Advanced Placement have become fully infused into high school academic culture and are considered predictors of college success. Few ambitious high school students, or their counselors, question the value of these tests and programs, and most consider them an integral part of the college application process.

Yet College Board is not without critics. Americans for Educational Testing Reform, for one, cites excessive pricing for services, high-paid executives, and a non-profit status that exempts College Board from taxation.

College Board, based in New York, is classified as a 501c3 (EIN 13-1623965) that reported revenue in fiscal year 2010 of $660 million and expenses of $594 million.

In fiscal year 2009 (July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009), revenue was reported as $623 million with expenses of $569.7 million.

Part of these expenses included $766,354 for lobbying efforts, including contact with legislators, their staff, government officials or a legislative body, according to College Board’s Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

That year, College Board reported compensation for 22 of its top employees of about $8.1 million. The highest paid employees were president and chief executive officer Gaston Caperton, who earned $872,061, and chief operating officer Herbert Elish, who earned $526,558. Peter Negroni, senior vice-president of relationship development, earned $452,843, and chief financial officer Thomas Higgins earned $452,230. The average compensation package for these 22 executives was $371,420.

Kathleen Fineout Steinberg, College Board’s executive director of communications, said in an email that the organization’s executive salaries “are established by a compensation committee of the Board of Trustees with the advice of independent, external compensation experts.”

“Salaries are benchmarked against comparable organizations, including other educational organizations and both for-profit and not-for-profit institutions of comparable size, scope and complexity,” she said. “As a non-profit, employee compensation is governed by the IRS and must be considered reasonable and demonstrate a direct connection to the exempt purpose and mission of the organization.”

Steinberg said all revenue is invested back into College Board’s programs and services, and the organization provides nearly $100 million in free programs and services annually, including more than $50 million in fee waivers and fee subsidies.