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Colleges Accused Of Buying Student Information Just To Boost Their Own Admission Rankings

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – CBS2 has learned some schools are buying the personal information of students to boost their own rankings.

People say it's a dangerous game that's using high schoolers as pawns.

"When I first received these emails it's like 'oh wow' I was like colleges actually care for me," Alexander Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez is a senior in high school and each day he gets about 30 emails from different colleges encouraging him to apply.

"Sometimes it's these elaborate fancy expensive packages to my door… You know you get this idea they're actually reaching out they received my information they want me as their student."

When the Brooklyn student registered online for the SAT's last year, he filled out the whole form. Which gave College Board – the non-profit that administers the test – permission to share his personal information with thousands of private universities, scholarship programs, and other organizations.

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"It's like you're registering for a test, you feel as though you have to fill out all this information."

"They're selling the data for 47 cents a name," Leonie Haimson of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy said.

"It's really a scam and it really doesn't benefit the students."

Haimson chairs the coalition.

"Colleges are buying this data not so much to actually find students who would be a good fit for their schools but in order to encourage more students to apply so they can boost their rejection rates and increase their selectivity which improves their ratings," Haimson explains.

College Board says the service is optional and "gives students the opportunity to start important conversations with colleges… and explore their options."

"If they can generate large numbers of applications it will improve their position in the rankings even if the same number of students the same quality of students are enrolling," Fordham University Professor of Law Joel Reidenberg said.

"They're improving their selectivity score on the back of that student who didn't have a chance to begin with."

College Board made the distinction to CBS2 that it does not "sell" students' names, it "licenses" them and requires its partners do not to use students' information for commercial purposes, not share the data with third parties, and destroy students' data once their contract with College Board is up.

"Once the data is out there there's no way to control it," Haimson said. "It can be sold and resold and resold again."

"Parents ought to be talking to their kids before they register for the test that they don't have to provide that information," Prof. Reidenberg added.

As for the schools already sending solicitations…

"Do you feel like a lot of these are trying to get you to apply just so they can reject you?" CBS2's Ali Bauman asked Rodriguez.

"Honestly yeah… You get the message you're nothing but a number and your attendance is nothing but numbers," the high school senior said.

College Board says students can rescind their permission at any time, but that doesn't stop schools which already have their information from continuing to use it.

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