The Federal Trade Commission should investigate companies that sell lists of prospective students to colleges and universities, a new report from the Institute for College Access & Success argues.
The report, released Tuesday, is the third installment of a series focused on the student list industry. The first two reports explained how the industry works and analyzed the student lists purchased by dozens of universities from 2016 to 2020 that were obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.
“Student lists play an essential role in the college access process because the U.S. higher education market is structured as a national voucher system that depends on providers to go out and find the students,” the report says. “Unfortunately, the contemporary student list business is characterized by the systematic exclusion of underrepresented students, the certain death of the college entrance exam, and the looming takeover by corporate and private equity interests.”
Ozan Jaquette, lead researcher for the project and an associate professor of higher education at the University of California, Los Angeles; University of Arizona assistant professor of higher education Karina Salazar; and data scientist Crystal Han authored the third report, which highlights potential options to regulate the industry.
“As long as the [Education] Department and the [Higher Education Act] abdicate responsibility for regulating the broader EdTech sector, they will remain incapable of regulating the student list business,” the report says.
The College Board and ACT have dominated the student list business over the last 50 years, thanks to their administration of standardized college admission tests that provide opportunities to gather student information, according to the report. But as the test-optional movement grows, their market share is expected to decline, and the consolidation of the industry among a few companies could increase existing inequities, the report says.
Inspired by national voter databases, the researchers proposed creating a public student list product that would be made available for free to colleges and universities. In their vision, a consortium of states would collaborate to create the list with information from statewide longitudinal data systems, and families could decide whether to opt into being included.
“Creating the public option will be difficult,” the report says. “Alternatively, we can do nothing, inviting a college access crisis as College Board and ACT fade and for-profit interests assume control of the student list business. This alternative is unacceptable.”