Leaf through the education section of any major newspaper, and you’re likely to find information provided from the College Board, but rarely with any explanation of the Board itself. The nonprofit not only administers the SAT (and markets many correlating services), they are the most prolific generator of scientific data concerning higher education.

They wear at least four very powerful hats in the American education system: student evaluation, scientific research, industry advocacy, as well as marketing their own products and services. But to what degree does CB’s advocacy and marketing bleed into the numbers quoted ubiquitously in the media? Not at all says CB. But there are plenty of skeptics that see a gray area, especially when it comes to the rising levels of student debt nationwide.

Up until 2007, CB participated as a lender in the Federal Family Education Loan Program. Their most recent report, released last week, has a rosy ring to it: “Education Pays: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society.” This week, due to that study, media are quoting CB findings: Median earnings of Americans with bachelor’s degrees are $21,900 higher than those with a high school diploma.

“That’s true. But what they fail to highlight is their net worth,” says Robert Applebaum, founder of Forgive Student Loan Dept to Stimulate the Economy. “Yes, they earn more, but they also owe more. It’s not a clear picture.”

“We use independent researchers. These are not College Board employees doing this research,” says Tom Rudin, senior vice president of advocacy, government relations and development at College Board. “I don’t think our mission is to advocate for colleges. We’re trying to provide information that connects students to the opportunity to go to college.”