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Journal's Student Data Story Unbalanced, Execs Say

The collection and use of high school students' personal information came under fire in a Wall Street Journal story, though the executives interviewed said the piece was unbalanced and potentially misleading.

“The article is inferring that marketing products and services to students is wrong, and it's surprising that The Wall Street Journal would be behind that position,” Donald Damore, president of American Student List Co. Inc., Mineola, NY, said about the story that ran on the front page Dec. 3. “I think that the article basically ignores all the benefits and the values that students and parents do receive from ASL as well as [National Research Center for College and University Admissions], and it's chosen to focus on some very small aspects of everything that our companies do.”

For 30 years, National Research Center for College and University Admissions has distributed its surveys to 18,000 participating high schools to be filled out by college-bound students. A brief privacy statement included with the surveys lets educators know that responses are used by colleges, universities and other organizations, a fact included in the WSJ story. While National Research distributes the information to the colleges and universities itself, it has sold its data to ASL for rental to the direct marketing community since they joined forces 30 years ago. ASL is its largest commercial client.

As stated in the Journal, unless a pending amendment to the federal education bill is passed, collecting information from students for commercial purposes does not require parental consent. Even so, National Research and ASL said the current process gives parents plenty of control over what solicitations their children receive.

“We feel that parental permission is inherent in our process because every offer that goes to the students, whether it's commercial or from a college, goes to the home in the form of a letter,” said Don Munce, president of National Research Center for College and University Admissions, Lee's Summit, MO.

Many of these solicitations are very welcome to students and their parents alike, Damore said.

“We provide information to the local formalwear or limousine companies that provide discounts for students attending their proms,” he said. “Nobody objects to that.”

Any direct marketer would recognize what National Research and ASL do as a legitimate business model and common practice in the industry.

Munce also said the Journal was vague about what information is shared with marketers. Though the survey does ask questions pertaining to whether a student would attend a religious college or university and whether the student would prefer a conservative, moderate or liberal campus, that information is not made available to marketers.

“We only share name, address and age with ASL,” he said.

Though Damore and Munce said it was too early to tell how the article would affect their organizations, both said that negative feedback has been minimal. Munce said he had received several calls of support from school administrators and others. In addition, Damore noted that fewer than 100 people a year request to be removed from the 9 million-name high school student database.

Journal reporter Daniel Golden said he hasn't received any complaints from the people he quoted in the story.

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