Federal class action lawsuit filed vs College Board’s predatory practices

UPDATE: Another lawsuit was filed today vs the Univ. of CA system for requiring College Board/ACT exams for admission; the lawsuit claims these exams are unconstitutional since they are racially biased and provide no meaningful info about a student’s ability to succeed.

Today a federal class action lawsuit was filed against the College Board for selling student data and for deceptive practices.  See the legal complaint here and the press release below.  If any parent is interested in learning more about the lawsuit and potentially joining in, please email us at [email protected]

There are lots of reasons to oppose the College Board selling student data through their “Student Search program” – the most obvious of which is that when they’re acting as a school vendor, this practice violates the law in 23 states by school vendors or “operators” under most conditions (see list here) , including NY, without special exceptions for the College Board and ACT.

In July 2018, the NY Times revealed that an organization to which College Board had sold student data had resold it to a for-profit company that markets expensive programs to families with dubious benefits, and that this practice may contribute to a thriving and largely unregulated commercial market in student data.  To this day, the CB refuses to make public the list of third parties and their “partners” to whom they sell the day.

The data is often collected under pressure from minor students before the administration of the PSAT, SAT and AP exams– without prior parent notification or consent – and the instructions are purposely left ambiguous so many don’t understand that this is voluntary.  Many parents have reported  that even though they told their kids not to answer them, they were pressured into doing this anyway.

The questions that College Board poses to students involve quite personal issues, including religious interests and activities that cannot be asked without parental opt out or consent according the federal law PPRA – as  the US Department of Education warned last year.

The little information the College Board provides on its website about this program is often highly deceptive – including claims that the “College Board does not sell student information”  and that they never share their actual test scores –  whereas they do sell personally identifiable student data for 47 cents a name, along with their test scores within  narrow ranges.  So, for example,  if a student decides not to submit their scores to  a score optional school they may not understand that the college may already have purchased their scores within a set range.

As Anthony P. Carnevale of  Georgetown University said, “The students are being treated as a commodity. The College Board is getting every last nickel that it can out of anybody who touches them.”

Given that these scores are highly correlated with race and class, allowing colleges to buy them may further harm disadvantaged students .  And as this recent Wall Street Journal pointed out,  the main goal of many colleges in purchasing this data is to improve their reputation for selectivity by increasing their rejection rates.

As it was recently revealed, Harvard recruits many more black students in particular  into applying than it has any intention of admitting.

Many students are so overwhelmed with the masses of marketing materials they receive through the “Student Search” process they  have a hard time distinguishing legitimate offers from schools that really would be are a right fit for them.  One high school student told me she almost threw out material sent her from a college she had applied to by mistake.

In any case, according to a research study,  the likelihood of students attending colleges whose data is purchased from the College Board increases by only 0.02 percentage points  — a tiny amount, though colleges lure five times the number to apply in this way.

The  whole practice of colleges spending millions on buying student data and marketing  to them is part of an arms race where more and more funds which should be used to improve education services is spent instead on advertising and mailings – similar to the wasteful spending of drug companies on advertising which contributes to the high cost of health care in the United States.

Today’s press release about the lawsuit follows.