What a New College Board President Means for Students


What a New College Board President Means for Students

By Emily Tate Sullivan     Jan 10, 2019

What a New College Board President Means for Students
A student uses the Official SAT Practice resources available online through Khan Academy.

Change is afoot at the College Board.

At first glance—and as of Thursday—the nonprofit is just reorganizing its leadership team: The president and chief executive, David Coleman, is now just CEO of the College Board, creating a vacancy so his chief operating officer, Jeremy Singer, can fill the position of president.

But the shift at the top represents the first in a series of changes to come, Singer tells EdSurge. In his new position as president, Singer will have more time and freedom to stoke the “technology transformation” that the College Board has undergone in recent years, he says, and will play a more active role in helping the organization embrace innovation across new and existing programs.

What that means: expanding partnerships with organizations like Khan Academy and the Coalition for College Access; simplifying the multi-step college application process and easing the financial burden of applying to colleges.

At the center of these changes, say College Board officials, is a drive to make good on the organization’s mission of increasing access, equity and opportunity for students preparing to enter college.

Expanding access

Following stints at the nonprofit Partners in School Innovation and the publisher McGraw-Hill Education, Singer served as president at Kaplan, a test-prep company, before joining the College Board about six years ago. His experiences had revealed how inaccessible commercial test prep was for low-income students, and it instilled in him the idea that “great test practice should be available to all students, not only those who could afford it,” he says.

His first major act at the College Board, which oversees the SAT and Advanced Placement (AP) Program, sought to correct this problem. Under his leadership, the organization partnered with Khan Academy, a provider of free, online educational materials, to make its official SAT practice tools available to all students, at no cost.

“We got the message out, and people are using it effectively,” Singer says. Since the project’s launch in summer 2015, more than 7 million students have gone to Khan Academy to prepare for the SAT, making it the No. 1 tool students use to study for the college entrance exam, according to the College Board.

“The Khan Academy partnership really makes it possible for students to access high-quality learning that they didn’t have before,” says Kaine Osburn, chair of the finance committee for the College Board’s board of trustees and superintendent of Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in Illinois. “The test prep market was inequitable, and now it’s equitable.”

The project is emblematic of others the College Board has launched recently and is planning for the years to come: It leverages technology to make its programs simpler to use, and to make college preparation more accessible for all students.

“There’s a ton that’s in the works,” Singer says. “I see this shift, organizationally, as an opportunity to more actively accelerate all the work we’ve been doing and do a lot more in the next five years.”

Reducing complexity

Over time, the legacy education organization—founded in 1900— introduced what Singer calls “unnecessary complexity” to many of its programs and processes. An extra requirement here, a point scale change there and too many intentionally tricky questions on the SAT, and all of a sudden first-generation and low-income students are rethinking whether college is really in the cards for them.

“What I felt was imperative is that we boldly reduce that complexity and be an advocate for students more broadly,” Singer says.

Most of College Board’s technology improvements so far have taken place behind the scenes. By integrating some functionalities and simplifying others, Singer says, students have one less website to visit, one less form to fill out, one less step to make them consider giving up.

Take the process of sending SAT scores to colleges, for example. Currently, students have to visit the College Board website separately to send each college their SAT scores. This fall, however, that step in the process will be eliminated for many students. The College Board has been working with the Coalition for College Access, a group of 140 colleges and universities, to let students submit their SAT scores and college applications in the same place.

“The more steps you add, we know students drop out,” says Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid at Yale University, which is a member of the Coalition. Quinlan has served on the College Board’s Higher Ed Working Group Committee and SAT Committee, where he worked closely with Singer on the SAT score integration in the Coalition and on a project to improve fee waivers.

Fee waivers allow low-income students to request that their fees—on things like college entrance exams and college admissions applications—be excused. In April 2018, a new fee waiver process was rolled out, replacing the “onerous, time-consuming process” that existed before, where students had to request a new fee waiver every time they took the SAT or applied to a new college, Quinlan describes.

What the College Board uses now is a “virtual easy pass,” Singer explains. Low-income students request a single fee waiver code that stays with them through the duration of their high school experience. The code grants a bevy of benefits, including two free SAT tests, six free subject tests, free unlimited score delivery to colleges and waived application fees to 2,000 participating colleges.

“This is a huge change. I think the true impact of it is perhaps not understood,” Quinlan says. “[The fee waiver] was a significant barrier for low-income students applying to multiple institutions. Now, it allows students to access all the opportunities they’ve earned. It’s just incredibly powerful.”

Staying competitive

When students begin to think about their college options, a pair of three-letter acronyms tend to come up a lot: the SAT and ACT. The two are often mentioned in the same breath and seen as major competitors.

In recent years, under new leadership, ACT has sought to expand its reputation beyond just offering the college entrance exam by making a series of strategic acquisitions and investments, in both the college-readiness and workforce assessment fronts.

Is that where the College Board is headed, too?

When asked, Singer hedges: “We focus more on partnerships,” he says, naming off Khan Academy, Pearson and AIR. “There are some smaller, really interesting organizations, like Quill [which provides online tools to improve K-12 students’ writing and grammar] and Desmos [which offers a free digital graphing calculator]. The default is not to acquire them, but we always have that consideration. From my background at Kaplan and McGraw-Hill, [I learned] that larger companies can acquire companies and then lose what made them special and more entrepreneurial. I’m sensitive to that, but my guess is we will do some acquisitions in the coming year.”

From a competitive standpoint, Singer says he is less concerned with the ACT and more focused on the talent the College Board can attract to its 1,700-person operation.

When he joined six years ago, the technology department at the College Board was competing with the likes of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for top talent.

“Now, we’re competing with Amazon and Facebook,” he says. “That’s exciting.”

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

More from EdSurge

Get our email newsletterSign me up
Keep up to date with our email newsletterSign me up