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For Immediate Release:  
For Further Information Contact:
January 13, 2005

Office of The Attorney General
- Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General

 

Lee Moore
609-292-4791

 
 

AG Announces Settlement with College Admissions Research Firm Over Student Data Sale

Non-Profit NRCCUA Sold Students’ Personal Information to Commercial Marketers


TRENTON – Attorney General Peter C. Harvey announced today that New Jersey has entered into a settlement agreement with the National Research Center for College and University Admissions (NRCCUA), a non-profit corporation that – without notifying students, teachers and parents – sold survey information it collected from high school students to profit-making companies, which then used the same information for commercial marketing purposes.

According to Harvey, a multi-state Assurance of Voluntary Compliance agreement negotiated by New Jersey and 41 other states requires the Missouri-based NRCCUA to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose why it collects student information, and with whom the information will be shared. In addition, NRCCUA must pay a total of $300,000 to the 28 states who took part in original settlement negotiations to fund consumer awareness programs.

“This is an important agreement for all New Jerseyans, and particularly for young people who are confronting --or one day soon will confront – the difficult decision of choosing a college or university, or selecting a career path,” said Harvey. “Each year -- based on their trust in the representation that it could expand their higher education or career options – high school students in New Jersey take time out from the school day to fill out NRCCUA surveys that ask for their grade point averages, religious affiliations, social views, and other personal information. We are committed to ensuring these young people are not exploited in return for their trust.”

Said Acting Governor Richard J. Codey, “It is unacceptable that personal information, provided in good faith by students who believed it might sharpen the focus of their college or career searches, was sold for marketing purposes without their knowledge.”

“New Jersey’s high school students, their parents, and the many committed educators who strive each day to help them make informed choices about the future deserve better,” Codey said. “Through this agreement, we are ensuring that the future aspirations of our young people are not exploited for commercial gain.”

Attorney General Harvey explained that an investigation into NRCCUA’s practices by New Jersey and the other states began in late 2001. The investigation determined that NRCCUA has, each year since at least 1988, been collecting personal information from millions of high school students across the nation via a free student survey it calls a “Post Secondary Planning Survey.” Typically, Harvey said, the free surveys are distributed by NRCCUA to high school teachers and guidance counselors, who in turn invite students to fill them out. Students can also complete the survey online at NRCCUA’s Web site.

In New Jersey, nearly 39,000 high school students responded to the NRCCUA survey in 2001. Nationwide, NRCCUA collected personal information from more than 2 million high school students in the same year, all the while representing – falsely – that the survey was funded completely by NRCCUA’s 850 member colleges and universities, and that the information would be used only for college or career recruitment purposes.

In fact, Harvey noted, NRCCUA had a contract with American Student List, a for-profit company that sells information to companies which use it for commercial solicitation purposes. American Student List sold the data provided by NRCCUA to commercial solicitors, who in turn used it in their marketing endeavors. NRCCUA also sold the information to a firm known as Educational Communications, Inc., which solicits high school students for the sale of educational and non-educational products or services.

In reaching settlement with the States, NRCCUA made no admission of wrongdoing. Attorney General Harvey said that, in addition to agreeing to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose its reasons for collecting information and the types of entities it will share that information with, NRCCUA has agreed to:

  • make “clear and conspicuous” disclosures in all of its privacy disclaimers and in all questionnaires, survey instruments and other documents
  • cease all future use of survey data collected from a student if a parent (in the case of a minor student) or adult high school student requests that the student be opted out of completing the survey, or that NRCCUA stop using previously collected information
  • supply -- in cases where NRCCUA is using, or permitting others to use, its survey data for non-educational purposes -- each school that has been sent an NRCCUA survey packet with a notice form advising parents (and adult-age high school students) that the survey may be administered, and explaining how to opt out of completing it. NRCCUA is to request in each case that the parental notice form go out at least 30 days prior to the survey being administered.

“The position put forth by the NRCCUA is that its annual surveys have been, and continue to be, an important asset in linking high school students with career recruiters and institutions of higher learning that are compatible,” said Harvey. “However, as far as the State of New Jersey is concerned, the fact that their survey has been helpful does not relieve NRCCUA – or any other entity engaged in the same activity – of an obligation to avoid unfair and deceptive business practices, and to be completely forthright about what they are doing with students’ personal information. ”

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