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No More Prowling for Cash

October 11, 2006

Sometimes, colleges can actually win one against the rankings industry.

College Prowler, a growing series of college-specific guidebooks, has abandoned a practice that many college educators viewed as unethical, even by the standards of a rankings industry that they generally hold in low regard.

In the spring, College Prowler started telling colleges that they had the opportunity -- for $4,995 -- to have eight pages of advertorial about their institutions included in the guidebooks. That money would also provide colleges with the right to fact check the material going in on their institutions (something many other guidebooks offer, for no charge).

Colleges were told that if they didn't buy the ad, the books on their institutions would contain eight blank pages with a statement that the institution “did not respond to our request to include its opinions in this chapter.” The language -- which was sent to colleges with a pitch for advertising -- would not have told readers of the guide that colleges had to pay to provide the information.

Many college officials were outraged, saying that they were in effect being strong-armed into paying up for a shot at having any say over what was being said about their institutions.

At the time, Luke Skurman, the chief executive officer of College Prowler, said he was surprised by the criticism because the new ad campaign was developed at the request of colleges that, he said, “wanted to add their voice” to the guides. “We aren’t trying to pressure anyone,” he said in May.

But Skurman contacted Inside Higher Ed recently to let it be known that College Prowler had dropped the controversial marketing move. Colleges can still pay $4,995 for eight pages of content. But colleges that don't do so will not have eight blank pages or any reference to whether or not they provided information.

"We alienated customers," Skurman said. "Colleges were worried and angry."

Colleges also apparently didn't pay up. Of the 210 colleges on which College Prowler has guides, Skurman said that only 3 paid for the eight pages of content. However, he said that of the next 25 colleges on which College Prowler plans guides, 2 have said that they will pay for the content.

The fact that College Prowler abandoned a practice after colleges wouldn't participate may be significant. Admissions circles are abuzz with talk about organizing ways for colleges to take a stand against the highly popular (with the public) and highly criticized (by colleges) rankings of U.S. News & World Report. To date, however, it is the rare college that says No to U.S. News.

 

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