Is Princeton Review’s SAT Prep Pricing Biased Against Asians?
On March 13, 2016, I watched this NBC Expose on pricing differences for SAT tutoring offered by the Princeton Review. The journalist, Ronan Farrow, concludes that the Princeton Review appears to be unfairly charging Asian students more for SAT test prep.
In this post, I investigate Farrow’s news snippet.
I have a healthy skepticism for “expose” news briefs. It seems that if one really wants to put some teeth to an expose, the expose should not be a quick-view– or at least, it should offer some means of viewing the research behind the accusation of misconduct.
In the case of Farrow’s SAT expose, I was able to access the same website used in the expose, this Princeton Review search engine that allows those interested in purchasing SAT test prep to price a variety of such services.
In his expose, Farrow centers upon SAT test prep services that for some students cost $6600 based upon zip code and for others, $8400, again based on zip code.
What Farrow fails to disclose is that this particular test prep is what Princeton Review calls, “SAT Premier Level Comprehensive Tutoring”, which Princeton Review describes as follows:
Simply the best in the business. They achieve stellar score improvements, elicit the highest praise from their students and are unparalleled in their expertise. Their unique insights and abilities allow them to anticipate student needs and provide customized solutions that work for each individual.
Each tutor leverages over 1,000 hours of tutoring or relevant work experience to provide exceptional results for their students.
Thus, this $6600 to $8400 SAT test prep is for in-person, individualized tutoring, flexible schedule. What it is not is online tutoring– which Princeton Review does offer as the first option listed on its SAT test prep search engine– and which costs $999 for any student in any location.
So, it is possible that the costs of providing in-person tutors in certain cities-states could vary.
And it apparently does.
To further investigate Farrow’s assertion that Asian students are being unfairly charged higher SAT test-prep fees than other students, I used this Zipatlas.com listing of US cities with the highest Indian (Asian) populations. For the top 80 cities listed, I used Princeton Review’s SAT test prep search engine to compare the costs of the SAT premier test prep service noted above, which I detail in this file.
Here are my findings:
First of all, Princeton Review appears to have four possible prices for the SAT premier service: $6600, $7200, $7800, and $8400.
Second, most of the top 80 cities with high Indian (Asian) populations are in New Jersey (27), New York (18), California (13), and Illinois (11).
Third, Princeton Review SAT premier tutoring always costs $7800 in New Jersey. Furthermore, an examination of other New Jersey zip codes reveals that $7800 is the New Jersey cost, not just the Indian (Asian) New Jersey cost.
Fourth, Princeton Review SAT premier tutoring always costs $7200 in Illinois. Examination of other Illinois zip codes reveals that $7200 is the Illinois cost, not just the Indian (Asian) Illinois cost.
Fifth, New York is more complicated. The premier tutoring costs $8400 for all of the New York cities counted among the top 80 highest Indian (Asian) US cities. Examination of other New York zip codes indicates that $8400 is the most popular NY price if one considers cities; however, if one considers counties, some locales are lower (e.g., in Westchester, Rockland, Orange Counties, the cost is only $7200, and in Schenectady, Montgomery, Albany, and Delaware Counties– those with zip codes 120XX and higher– it drops to $6600.
To attribute the variance in New York pricing to ethnicity alone would require more study– solid study. Note, however, that the “lower” prices for some New York counties are the average prices on the “top 80” list for cities in other states. For example, the SAT premier package in all “top 80” cities in California and Illinois costs $7200, what is considered a “cheaper” New York price.
Sixth, examination of California zip codes shows that even though in most counties in California, SAT premier costs $7200, in some counties (e.g., San Diego and Imperial), the price drops to $6600.
Seventh, “top 80” pricing per state is not even always consistent. For the two cities in Pennsylvania on the “top 80” list, the cost is $7200 (Montgomeryville) and $6600 (Sprankle Mills).
Finally, on the “top 80” list, cities with the $6600 pricing are Norman, NC; Riley, OR, and Helen, GA. Thus, not too many of the “top 80” cities are for the lowest SAT premier price of $6600. Still, to jump to a conclusion is ill advised, especially since the entire premier price spectrum is evident on the “top 80” list– and without a systematic showing of the higher prices being positively related to Indian (Asian) population.
In sum, Farrow’s supposed expose of Princeton Review pricing bias based on test taker ethnicity is quite the reach– and it is poor journalism. There is just too much even in this brief post to provide evidence that seriously questions his “expose.”