Selling personal student information from data mining can buy you a yacht. So what’s the problem?

Here’s a nifty way to make a small fortune: Set up a service selling personal student information to colleges to use in their admission procedures or to establish a college’s ranking.  Do you still believe education reform is really ‘for the kids’?  From Inside Higher Ed and Predicting Where Students Go:

A trio of senior college enrollment officials gave a peek into how they decide which students to recruit. The process now involves number-crunching students’ demographic and economic information — not just sending chipper ambassadors to every nearby high school, mailing glossy books to students’ homes and relying on gut instincts.

The discussion, during a session at the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, was one of many to take place here about how to hunt for students. The search for students involves a web of data points, formulas and consulting firms that perhaps few parents and students are aware of.

Don Munce, the president of the National Research Center for College and University Admissions, or NRCCUA, offers a modeling service meant to predict which high school students are most likely to enroll at a particular institution. The center sells data on students to college admissions officials.

Munce moderated the panel of three college admissions officials who use his predictive modeling service. One of the college officials joked he bought so many student names from NRCCUA that he probably paid for Munce’s yacht.

What does the above link detailing the web of data points reveal?

Now, it’s easier for recruiters to use millions of high school students’ personal information to target them for certain traits, including family income or ethnicity, or even to predict which students will apply, enroll and stay in college.

These tactics, which are beginning to resemble the data-driven efforts used by political campaigns, have already prompted internal discussions at the College Board. Advisers to the College Board — which has data on seven million students it sells to about 1,100 institutions each year – met early this summer and talked about doing more to police how colleges can use the board’s student data, but a committee decided not to change the current policies.

The new tools to micro-target students could help some colleges attract tuition-paying students amid a shrinking pool of high school graduates.  A scramble — first for students to enroll and second for students who don’t need institutional financial aid – has forced college officials to rethink how they fish for students and put more pressure on them to find students of a certain kind.

“Everybody wants to go to the magic island of full-pay students, but it’s rapidly shrinking real estate,” said Bill Berg, an enrollment management consultant at Scannell & Kurz.

Did you catch the reference to The College Board, now headed by the architect of the Common Core State Standards David Coleman?  The shrinking real estate market of full-paying students can be mined by data points sold by marketing services who have accessed them from private companies:

The main sources of student names remain the top standardized test makers — the College Board and ACT – and the National Research Center for College and University Admissions, or NRCCUA, which gathers data on students through surveys they are asked to take in high school.

All three services ask students if they want to “opt in” to share their personal data with colleges, though perhaps few parents and students realize that or are aware of the machinery that kicks into gear after students opt in.

The main three services, for instance, sell millions of student names a year for about 37 cents apiece to colleges and consulting firms hired by the colleges. Colleges and consultants use those names to begin targeting students with a combination of mail and e-mail marketing.

Recruitment advisers offer this advice, which wouldn’t be out of place for salesmen of any other kind: “be persistent.” Admissions officials in a recent survey said, on average, they try to contact each prospective applicant 6.6 times.  All told, admissions offices at four-year colleges spend about $2,500 per enrollee on recruitment office and marketing costs, according to Eduventures, a research and consulting firm. That’s a significant chunk of change in trying times.

This significant chunk of change certainly will keep the education reformers happy in their yachts.  Scott Joftus was correct in 2009 and predicted what education reform really entailed (hint, it’s not ‘for the kids’ at all).  From MEW and The Wild West of Education and The Common Core Goldrush:

That metaphor is an apt one for the market as well. In the fall of 2009, Mr. Joftus was contacted by a former contractor who was working for Global Partnership Schools, a new school turnaround venture funded by GEMS Education, a Dubai-based company founded by entrepreneur Sunny Varkey. The caller was hoping to obtain copies of Mr. Joftus’ contract for school improvement services in Kansas.
“You know we’re in a new era when school turnaround firms in the U.S. are being funded out of the Middle East,” Joftus said. “To me, that says there’s money to be made. I call this period the Wild West in education.”

The MEW article focused on the money to be made by the testing companies as assessments needed to be rewritten for the schools.  The modeling companies selling personal data to colleges to determine a better applicant pool is just another intrusion into your private life for the colleges’ benefit.  Education reform is great for the corporations.  For the kids and privacy concerns? Not so much.  Read more from Inside Higher Ed:

Students may also not realize they have become pawns in some colleges’ ranking games.

Some enrollment officials say abuses that occur in the admissions process are generally tied to practices that would affect an institution’s rankings in the U.S. News & World Report’s closely-watched guidebook.

“There are institutions that will purposefully buy and target and go after students who don’t meet their profile so they can have a lower selectivity ranking,” said Jeff Fuller, the director of student recruitment at the University of Houston. A lower selection rate can boost a college’s ranking.

In other words, students are being approached by colleges that intend to deny them so the institutions can look better on paper.  Don’t look for any changes in the near future on data collection and its use by private companies for financial gain:

Advisers to the College Board — which has data on seven million students it sells to about 1,100 institutions each year – met last summer and talked about doing more to police how colleges can use the board’s student data, but a committee decided not to change its policies.

A reader’s comment on the above linked post:

There was an article in the Chicago Tribune a while back about this sort of data-mining (paywalled; here’s a blog post in which I summarized the article: http://janetheactuary.blogspot… ) which suggested this goes a lot further than just deciding which students to market to, but extends to very invasive data-mining based on students’ web searches, and potentially even targeting, and withholding scholarships based on which kids will be lured by the money and who would’ve come anyway. This doesn’t sit well with me as a parent of future college students.


Published September 19, 2014





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