College Board Plans First Foray Into For-Profit World
The College Board, the nonprofit organization that sponsors the SAT and Advanced Placement tests, has announced plans to launch its first for-profit subsidiary.
The trustees of the New York City-based board voted on Sept. 24 to give the go-ahead to a World Wide Web site that will provide free and low-cost tutoring for SAT and AP tests, college and financial-aid information, and eventually, perhaps, online AP courses.
College Board officials expect to have the new Web site up and running by next spring.
The new Internet business, called collegeboard.com, plans to generate revenue through the same means other Internet companies use, including soliciting advertisers, said Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board. He is seeking investors for the venture.
"We need outside investors to build a Web site. The resources we have need to be used for the existing programs for SAT and AP," said Mr. Caperton, the former West Virginia governor who joined the College Board last July.
The move is not without controversy, however. Some critics charge that the 100-year-old College Board will taint its credibility by moving into the for-profit realm.
Conflicts of Interest?
If all goes as planned, the new Web site will put the College Board in competition with large test-preparation companies such as the Princeton Review and Kaplan Educational Centers, as well as online guidance services such as CollegeQuest.com and CollegeNet.com.
Sally Narodick, the chief executive officer for APEX Online, a new seller of online AP courses that may find itself competing with the College Board, said she views the nonprofit's launch of a for-profit subsidiary "an absolutely appropriate next step to extend their brand."
But two critics from the higher education community denounced the College Board trustees for their decision, saying it reflects a disturbing trend toward commercialism in education.
"I think it's a terrible idea," said Alex Molnar, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the director of the Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education.
He argued that nonprofit organizations should resist moving into the for-profit sector as much as possible, particularly if they administer a test with high stakes for individual students, such as the widely used sat college-entrance exam.
"We're going to produce this high-stakes test, and we're going to help you pass it, and we're going to pass your name along to someone else who has an interest," he said, expanding on his view of how the motives of the College Board might be perceived.
Scott Rice, an English professor at San Jose State University in California who is writing a book about commercial influences on education, agreed that the College Board was undermining its reputation.
"As a not-for-profit, they've enjoyed a certain amount of authority and trust," Mr. Rice said. "Once they take advertisers on board, they're going to be suspect. They're going to end up using their prestige and status to endorse products and practices that are not in the interest of college students."
Chiara Coletti, the vice president of public affairs for the College Board, said the trustees had anticipated such criticism but believe having a for-profit subsidiary does not "impinge on the value of a not-for-profit core." She added that, while no decisions have been made about the kinds of advertisers that would be accepted, "the board would never accept advertising from companies that would hold values inconsistent with our own."
Ms. Coletti said Mr. Caperton expects by January to seek board approval for a development plan for collegeboard.com.
Vol. 19, Issue 6, Page 3Published in Print: October 6, 1999, as College Board Plans First Foray Into For-Profit World