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Published in Print: November 17, 1999, as Internet Site Matches Students and Colleges

Internet Site Matches Students and Colleges

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Auctions aren’t just for farmers and their livestock anymore. A new Internet site that launched its interactive matching process this month now allows price-conscious students and their parents to bid on a college education.

Critics call eCollegebid.com inventive, but fault it for doing little to help students learn about the admissions process.

The site, eCollegebid.com, began matching students, their portfolios, and their tuition bids with colleges across the nation on Nov. 2, said Tedd D. Kelly, the president of Consultants Educational Resources and Research Inc. in Falls Church, Va., who came up with the concept.

"Last year, there were 500 colleges and universities that had vacancies out of about 2,000 schools total," Mr. Kelly said. "Colleges are going to fill those spaces at whatever cost it takes. No school wants [enrollment numbers] to be down because it looks like you are losing ground."

To begin the matching process, students post their grade point averages, test scores, intended majors, and the region of the country where they would like to go to school on the World Wide Web site, along with the amount of money they are willing to pay for a full year of tuition, room, and board. Admissions officers then browse the site’s bank of portfolios and get in touch with students who fit the school’s needs. Students still must apply for admission through the schools’ usual procedures, but institutions will consider a student’s bid in preparing individual financial- aid packages.

Mr. Kelly guards the names of participating colleges and universities; they will be revealed only when the institutions make contact with prospective students. He said students—whose names are not kept confidential from the colleges—won’t know which institutions are looking at them or the number of schools that pass them up.

"One of the purposes of this Web site is to create more access to colleges not known outside of their regions and to [reach] more students who are outside of the [institution’s] normal recruitment areas," Mr. Kelly said. Otherwise, students wouldn’t likely apply to schools they didn’t recognize even if the price tag was affordable, he added.

Mr. Kelly said 500 students had applied since the Web site first went online six weeks ago. Students pay nothing to use the service. So far, six institutions of higher education—located in the Midwest, New England, and Florida—have paid $2,000 each to participate, he said.

Plans for Growth

Fifteen other institutions are considering working with eCollegebid.com, according to Mr. Kelly, and the site’s business plan calls for another 25 to 35 to be on board by the end of the academic year.

"We see this as an opportunity to identify [students to fill] underenrolled programs," said John Dolan, the dean of enrollment management at the Catholic University of America in Washington, one institution that is considering working with Mr. Kelly. For example, Mr. Dolan said, the university may use the service as a tool to recruit nursing students.

Critics call eCollegebid.com inventive, but fault it for doing little to help students learn about the admissions process. A one-page summary includes instructions for students to "Meet college deadlines or you are dead meat."

"Where eCollegebid.com falls short is that it is not a very information-rich environment," said Michael S. McPherson, the author of the Student Aid Game and the president of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. "Students are sending out a price signal into the void, and the void listens and sends a price signal back. That’s an OK way to buy a fountain pen, but a college education?"

The response to the site reveals just how worried people are about the rising costs of higher education, said Jamie Pueschel, the legislative director for the United States Student Association in Washington. Among other things, the organization lobbies for student financial aid.

"It is a little bit sad that people are having to be more concerned about affordability rather than making sure the school is right for their child," Ms. Pueschel said.

The average annual cost of tuition, fees, room, and board at a public, four-year institution is $8,086 for the 1999-2000 academic year, according to a recent study completed by the College Board. The average cost of tuition at a private, four-year institution is $21,339 this year. ("College-Tuition-Rate Increase Is Lowest in Four Years," Oct. 13, 1999. )

Vol. 19, Issue 12, Page 12

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