Universities buy test-taker information to market to prospective students

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Posted at 5:43 PM, Nov 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-06 20:21:49-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Getting into college is harder than it's ever been before. You need good grades, extracurriculars, and high test scores.

For universities, it's more competitive than ever to have students apply to your institution over others, but with the help of College Board, they can reach more people through the SATs by buying test-taker names and information if they meet certain criteria, like a certain test score and area of study they're interested in.

"Schools have been doing this for years," Reggie Blair, senior director of admissions at Lipscomb University, explained. "This is how we get names, this is how we market to students."

Blair said having access to student information such as their test scores, areas of study they're interested in, geographic location, and other factors are extremely helpful tools in marketing to students that would be a good fit for a specific institution or program.

"Typically what schools are trying to do is they're trying to figure out students that are gonna fit the profile of the institution," Blair said.

But the method has had a huge impact on college applications.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 1,900 schools and scholarship programs purchase names from College Board for 47 cents per name.

While many buy the names for recruitment purposes, others allegedly buy them to help their college ranking by enticing more students to apply but only accepting the same amount, making their rejection rate go up, and amplifying the perception of exclusivity.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Vanderbilt bought somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 names last year, and they've been buying names for decades.

That's likely one reason that they've received so many more applications.

In 2006, they received 9,836 applications, compared to this newest class where they received 31,462 applications, and in 2002, Vanderbilt's admissions rate was 46% compared to only 11% in 2017.

Still, more than 80% of test takers want to make their information available to schools, and many of those students benefit from the fact that universities can let them know about their programs.

"Part of what the universities are trying to accomplish is getting their name out in front of those students and also getting those programs in front of those students, saying, 'hey, we have this option.' Saying, 'hey, this is where we're located. You may have never heard of us, why don't you come check us out,'" Blair said.

Schools can also get test-takers information based on where they live, so schools in the southeast could market directly to students who live in their region.