Inside the World of For-Profit Lead Generators, Part II

In my last post, I examined “Education Start,” a deceptive site run by a company called Vantage Media. Education Start asks students which colleges they are interested in applying to, and promises it will give them information about applying. In reality, it gives their contact information to for-profit recruiters which are paying for leads. In the post, I explained how the site works from a user’s point of view, and how a student is tricked while using the site.

Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education posted a fascinating account of what the business is like from the other side, telling the story of a man named James Soloway, who worked at a Vantage Media call center. Soloway recently left that job and has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about the company’s practices (he says he left the job of his own accord and bears no grudge against the company). Soloway’s job was essentially to call up students who had submitted information to Education Start and get them to agree to consider for-profit institutions (which paid Vantage for this service). It was basically an over-the-phone follow-up to the tactics used on the website: assure the student that their information was going to the schools they were interested in, but then suggest, say, wouldn’t you like to apply to these lovely for-profit schools right in your area?

It’s worth reading his entire story in full [pdf, 2 pages], but here are some excerpts that demonstrate just how sleazy this operation is:

  • “Students were not at all receptive to the calls as they couldn’t understand why they were being called by, a Vantage Media website, and not the community college they thought they sent their inquiry to.”
  • “The objective was to keep the student on the phone long enough to generate three leads for Vantage Media’s private schools such as one lead for South University, one lead for The Art Institute and one lead for Kaplan University.”
  • “After making calls for several months, it became apparent to me that we were more likely doing a disservice for the majority of students.”
  • “The whole Vantage Media lead generation model puts the student’s education path at risk.”
  • “It seems now the student never does hear from the community college they had wanted information from in the first place.”
  • “Vantage Media is deceiving possibly two to three thousand students a week. Students are being misinformed. Public school reputations are being damaged. This is simply wrong and needs to be stopped.”

Well, if I’ve done my job, you are all as outraged and disgusted as I am.  If for-profit schools are dishonest in terms of generating leads, can we trust them to be honest in other areas? If they are really looking out for students, why do they feel the need to resort to deceit when it comes to recruitment? You might even wonder how many current students at for-profits are only there because they fell into a trap like this. I’ll end by paraphrasing James Soloway’s advice: public and private non-profit colleges should demand that their names be taken off websites like Education Start. The site piggybacks on the school’s prestige and takes advantage of students who know those schools by their deserved reputation. If Vantage Media wants to advertise for-profit schools, we should at least try to make them more honest about it.

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