College Board Names Priscilla Rodriguez New Vice President, College Readiness Assessments
The College Board has announced that Priscilla Rodriguez will serve as its Vice President, College Readiness Assessments.
The College Board has announced that Priscilla Rodriguez will serve as its Vice President, College Readiness Assessments. In this role, Priscilla will lead all programs and services related to the SAT Suite of Assessments, including the SAT and PSAT-related assessments. Priscilla joined the College Board in February 2018 as Executive Director of Scholarships Strategy, to lead the creation, launch, and management of the College Board Opportunity Scholarships (CBOS) program. Since launching last December, 425,000 students in the class of 2020 have joined CBOS and have been working through the six college planning steps to earn scholarships.
In her new role, Priscilla will continue to focus on expanding access for students through opportunities tied to the SAT Suite. She will begin her new role at a time when record numbers of students and educators are embracing the SAT Suite of Assessments. The Class of 2019 is the biggest SAT cohort in College Board history with more than 2.2 million students having taken the SAT at least once during high school.
All Access sat down with Priscilla to chat about her new role, how the current higher education landscape will continue to impact the College Board’s work, and our potential to reach even more students and help them on their path to college.
All Access: Before we dive into your new role, let’s talk about how you ended up at the College Board. You started your career in the private sector. Can you talk about that experience?
Priscilla Rodriguez: As a child of immigrants who struggled financially during their first decade in this country, I entered college focused on majoring in something that would lead to a career with financial stability. It was the early 2000’s and the financial sector was booming, so I entered the University of Virginia's undergraduate business school and double-majored in finance and marketing. I enjoyed the rigor and analysis of finance and the human psychology of marketing. I spent the years after graduation working in investment banking at Morgan Stanley and in private equity at the Carlyle Group.
AA: Why make the change to the nonprofit world?
PR: Those years in the financial sector were the best business and managerial bootcamps I could’ve asked for, but the other side of being a child of immigrants was a deep – but at that point dormant – desire to spend my time working on behalf of families like mine. I left Carlyle and spent a year working pro-bono for non-profits and foundations in Botswana, Northern Virginia where I grew up, and Colombia where my family is from. I was more excited to get out of bed each morning – working for free – than I had ever been. I knew at that point that I needed to find a way to combine my business training with my desire to have social impact. That led me to Harvard Business School where I explored the intersection of business and social impact. From there, I landed at New Profit, the leading venture philanthropy organization, then moved to the Bridgespan Group, where I was a strategy consultant to large nonprofits and foundations, and then finally to the Poses Family Foundation, an NYC-based foundation focused on changing the lives of children and adults with learning disabilities. I spent five years there – commuting weekly from DC where I live with my husband and our dog.
AA: What drew you to the College Board at this point in your career?
PR: I have four principles that have guided my career decisions, especially since I left finance: 1.) Work with the smartest people you can so that you never stop learning. 2.) Those people must also be kind. 3.) Go where your work can have the most transformative impact. 4.) Don’t go somewhere that is too big or scared to test and learn. The College Board has delivered on those four principles in a way that few other places can. As a first-generation American whose life was changed by access to high-quality educational opportunities, the fact that I get to work with the smartest, kindest people I’ve met at a scale that touches millions of students’ lives and in a way that starts by asking what the least resourced students need is a dream come true.
AA: You joined the College and Career Access (“CCA”) division two years ago specifically to launch the new College Board Opportunity Scholarships program. What was it like launching such a multi-faceted program?
PR: SO fun! It has been amazing to get out of bed every day with the goal of giving every student a clear and motivating roadmap to college planning and $25 million in scholarships that reward them for each college planning action they take. In just the 10 months since we launched CBOS (as we call it internally), over 425,000 class of 2020 students from across the U.S. have joined the program and are working their way through the six-step college planning guide. We’ve already awarded $2 million in scholarships to over 2,000 students, including students who never dreamed they could get a scholarship. Next spring, we’ll be awarding the first 25 students who will receive a $40K scholarship for completing all six steps. We’ve received hundreds of messages from students, and I’d love to share one that stays with me because it gets to the heart of why we developed CBOS as a scholarship program open to all students: I've always considered myself a pretty unmemorable student; I work hard, but I admire my peers to such a high degree that I find my own achievements washed out in the process. Being appreciated like this lets me step back and recognize that my hard work can pay off when I least expect it to. Namira from New York who earned a $2,000 “Improve Your Score” scholarship for practicing for the SAT for at least 12 hours on Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy and growing her score by at least 100 points.
AA: Turning now to your new purview: the SAT. Right now is certainly a dynamic time to be the head of the SAT program. As you approach your new position, what are things you want students, parents, and educators to know about the SAT Suite of Assessments?
PR: We redesigned the SAT in 2016 so that it tests what students actually learn in school and we paired it with a world-class, completely free personalized practice tool that we developed in partnership with Khan Academy. Our first National Validity Study showed that the SAT is strongly predictive of college success—even more so when combined with high school grades. We now partner with states, districts and schools so that they can give the PSAT and SAT to every student – not just the ones who are told they’re “college-worthy” – during the school day and at no cost to the student. And we know from recent research that offering the SAT at no cost during the school day propels more students into college. We also invest over $100 million each year to give fee waivers and fee reductions to low-income students not just for the SAT, but for AP exams so that low income students can take challenging coursework and get college credit for it, and for their college applications so that money doesn’t keep them from applying to the schools they want to attend.
AA: Between the Varsity Blues scandal and the discussion around test-optional, the conversation around the use of test scores in college admissions is evolving rapidly. What is your take on the current scrutiny around standardized testing?
PR: Students and families across the country are deeply – and understandably – anxious about the college application and admission process. I can relate to our critics who have referred to it as an arms race that no one is winning, especially middle class and lower-income students and families. Inequities that students face from a young age, ranging from a lack of high-quality pre-K, to public schools struggling for funding, to a shortage of free or low-cost enrichment activities are then exposed by assessments, including the SAT and ACT. The assessments don’t create the inequities, but they reveal them. College Board’s mission isn’t to deliver tests, but to expand access to college for more students and help them succeed when they get there.
AA: What is the College Board doing that sets it apart?
PR: Throughout its history, but especially over the past five years, the College Board has been acutely focused on reducing barriers students face on their path to college. Programs like CBOS, which I had the honor to lead, give every student a six-step roadmap to the college planning process and millions of dollars in scholarships to help them pay for college. We’ve established new partnerships with 20 scholarship organizations who use the PSAT/NMSQT to find promising students and give them hundreds of millions of dollars in scholarships. We understand and acknowledge the anxiety that our families and stakeholders feel. The challenges are real, and we need to work with students, their families, educators, and higher ed to preserve what is so valuable and critical about the SAT while acknowledging that we can, and will, do more to support the evolving needs of students and colleges. The PSAT/NMSQT, SAT, National Hispanic Recognition Program, Student Search Service and AP classes helped me be found and they changed my life. I’m thrilled and honored that in my new role leading the SAT Suite I will be able to work with an amazing team across the College Board and with all of our stakeholders to improve and adapt our programs so that we can keep helping students be found.