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College Board and Your Name: Enrollment VP Insight

Did you know that, for decades, one of the primary reasons that college brochures and emails find their way into the inboxes and mailboxes of teens is by way of the College Board and ACT?

When students take standardized tests, these organizations sell their names to colleges (oops: "license" their names.) It's part of the stage known as "Search" in most admission offices. It's the first round of building the "admission funnel" that narrows down progressively to applications and matriculation.

Image source: AACRAO website

I'll admit that in my days of proctoring PSATs at schools, I would go off script when reading instructions to let 10th grade students know that checking the box that says, "Student Search Service is a free, voluntary program that connects students with information about educational and financial aid opportunities from eligible colleges, universities, and other scholarships and educational programs," would essentially bury them in spam before they were probably ready or had set up a dedicated email address for college communication (note: It's a good idea to do that!)

Recently, the College Board, the company behind the SAT and the Advanced Placement program (did you know that even though they make over $1 Billion a year in revenue, they are a non-profit?), offered a webinar to admissions professionals informing them of coming changes to the way they obtain and share names with colleges.

The always wise Jon Boeckenstedt, VP of Enrollment Management at Oregon State University, shares a behind-the-curtain look at College Board's College Search Service™, the potential implications of their planned changes, and why you might be concerned, in this blog post:

Jon suggests that watching this video may prepare you to understand what's happening in the announcements.

A few choice quotes:

What students don’t always realize is that checking this box gives College Board permission to send a lot of personal information to colleges who are looking for students like them, and that College Board gets about 50 cents each time they release a name to a college. A college in Oklahoma, for instance, might be looking for more humanities students in Kansas, and thus can license (not “buy”) the names of English majors in the state who score at least a 1200. Or a college in Ohio that believes it’s not serving Hispanic students well can license the whole nation of Hispanic students who expressed an interest in programs they offer. That license is only limited by the number of names in the database and the college’s budget.

But in the future, College Board will be shifting to a “Connections™” service, run through a College Board application students install on their phone.

Again, colleges will have little option but to buy into this. It’s the cost of doing business, and my guess is that this will end up costing us more (I have no concrete evidence of this, but COVID cost College Board something like $325M in revenue, and they have to make that up somehow.)

That’s the first, and biggest problem: College Board is still the de facto list broker, the font of information, for colleges who want to recruit students. We’ve ceded that to them out of inertia. It should not be this way. Something as important as college attainment and access should not reside with a company that shows time and time again that it will do what’s best for its business model and its bottom line. But here we are.

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