UT Deal Gives Credit Card Company Access To Student Info - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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UT Deal Gives Credit Card Company Access To Student Info


By Ben Hall
Investigative Reporter

It's supposed to be a place for learning. 

But for credit card companies, college campuses are a major recruiting ground.

A NewsChannel 5 investigation reveals one major credit card company is paying millions of dollars to the University of Tennessee for information on its students.

Dave Chumley doesn't want his kids to fall into the credit card trap he did.

"It really did put me behind," Chumley said. "I had to do credit repair."

As a freshman in college, he signed up for a free t-shirt and received a credit card in the mail days later.

"To me, it was just a free t-shirt," Chumley said.

After getting the card, he vowed to use it only for emergencies, but things quickly got out of control.

"At 18, I didn't know what a real emergency was. So, if I was hungry, that was an emergency," Chumley said.

Chumley graduated with more than $3,000 in credit card debt that he says took six years to pay.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates has obtained a once confidential contract that shows how credit card companies target college students like Chumley by paying millions of dollars to universities.

Chase Bank currently pays the University of Tennessee more than $1.4 million a year for exclusive access to students. 

That access includes the right to request names, telephone numbers and even e-mail addresses of students, faculty and alumni to market its credit card.

And on game days, Chase can set up kiosks in prominent locations on campus and give out gifts, like t-shirts.

"These students are like fish in a barrel," said State Senator Andy Berke, (D) - Chattanooga. "Our universities are there to educate our children.  They're not there for big companies to market to them."

Senator Berke co-sponsored a bill designed to stop on campus solicitation by credit card companies. 

But when the bill passed in 2008, the last line grandfathered in all existing contracts, something the University of Tennessee really wanted.

"They had some concerns about the fact there was a pre-existing contract," Berke said.

Under the contract, UT can receive royalty payments, including $1.00 for every new university credit card account Chase approves.

The university can also receive a percentage, of 0.5%, of all retail sales on the cards. 

Those payments kick in if profits from Chase's contract with the University of Tennessee exceed $1.4 million in a year, which the university says has never happened.

University officials say even though Chase gives all that money, the credit card company has never officially requested the names and addresses of students. 

Chase started to a few years ago, according to the spokesman, but then decided against making the request. 

But the university admits if Chase asked for the addresses tomorrow, UT would have to provide them.

A university spokesman refused an interview, but said in a statement the University of Tennessee has received $26 million from credit card contracts since 1998.  An e-mail from spokesman Hank Dye stated, "In this day of scarce resources, this is a very fortunate and welcome help in defraying costs."

But instead of spending all the money directly on students, some of it has gone the athletic department and fundraising.

"I don't think it's really fair," said university Senior Lacie Hyder. "Let me hand out your address to someone who wants your money."

If students sign an opt-out clause at the beginning of the year, their names cannot be provided to the credit card company. 

But their names would also not be part of any student directory. 

Many students say the contract just makes them uncomfortable especially when more than half of University students are borrowing money for college and graduating with debt.

"The university as a whole needs money" acknowledged Senior Erica Boozer.  "The fact that they are invading our privacy is a little unethical."

Dave Chumley and his wife don't have a credit card now, just a debit card. 

But they also have a story to warn their kids about credit card marketing. 

"A very expensive t-shirt, that's now in a rag box," Tracey Chumley said.

Her husband added, "I wish I could show it to you so I could say there's my $3000.00 t-shirt."

A new federal law has made marketing to college students more difficult.  But University of Tennessee still receives money from Chase even though Chase says it has no plans to request any student addresses.

MTSU's had a much smaller agreement with Chase that ended last year. MTSU recieved $75,000 a year.  No school in Tennessee came close to getting what UT receives.  In fact, UT's contract is the 8th highest in the nation.

Email: bhall@newschannel5.com

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