Consumer News Release
For immediate release - Thursday, January 13, 2005.
Contact Bob Brammer - 515-281-6699.
States Settle with Company that Shared Students' Information with Commercial Firms
"National Research Center for College and University Admissions, Inc." shared information from student surveys with companies that sold products or services.
DES MOINES. Attorney General Tom Miller announced today that 42 states including Iowa have entered into a consumer protection settlement with National Research Center for College and University Admissions., Inc. (NRCCUA) concerning the company's past collection of personal information through high school student surveys. ["AVC" settlement, or Assurance of Voluntary Compliance.]
The states alleged that NRCCUA represented or implied that the information it collected from high school students was shared only with colleges, universities and other entities for recruitment and other education-related services when, in fact, NRCCUA also shared the information with commercial entities that used the information to solicit the students for the sale of educational and non-educational commercial products or services.
NRCCUA did not admit any violations in settling the matter but agreed to change its practices as required by the AVC. In the AVC, NRCCUA stated that it had ceased permitting use of the student data for non-educational-related marketing purposes in 2002.
National Research Center for College and University Admissions, Inc., a Missouri not-for-profit corporation headquartered in Lee's Summit, Missouri, surveys and collects information from millions of high school students each year. In 2001, it collected personal information from more than 2 million high school students who completed its surveys. In the settlement with the states, NRCCUA says its "annual Surveys enable more than 5 million high students to indicate their unique college and career preferences to over 1200 colleges and universities."
NRCCUA and similar organizations provide surveys to U.S. high school teachers and guidance counselors and request that they be given to students to complete. Students may also complete the survey on-line via the Internet.
The NRCCUA surveys ask students for personal information, such as their name, address, gender, grade point average, date of birth, academic and occupational interests, racial or ethnic background, and, in the event the student is interested in attending a college with a religious affiliation, the denomination of their choice. Some of the entities, but not NRCCUA, also provide surveys to be given to junior high school students.
The settlement, through an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance ("AVC") requires NRCCUA:
- Not to misrepresent how personally-identifiable information will be collected, used or disclosed, or how the collection of the information is funded.
- To disclose clearly and conspicuously why it collects personal information of students and the types of entities to which information is disclosed.
- To make such disclosures in all of its privacy statements and in all questionnaires, survey instruments, and other documents.
- To cease all use of survey data collected from a student if a parent or an adult high school student requests that the student be opted-out of completing the survey, or asks NRCCUA not to use previously-collected information.
- If NRCCUA changes its current practice and, once again, chooses to use or permits others to use its survey data for non-educational-related marketing purposes, then NRCCUA must supply schools with a notice form to be given to parents at least 30 days in advance, telling them the survey may be administered and how to "opt-out" their student-children from completing the survey.
The Iowa Attorney General's Office led the group of states that negotiated the agreement.
Attorney General Tom Miller said: "This agreement is all about requiring a company to respect the privacy interests of students and parents. It clarifies the company's obligation to disclose how information will be used, and to give students and parents a clear right to keep student information private."
Miller said that parents of high school and junior high school students should be aware that their children may be asked to complete surveys like those of NRCCUA and others. "Federal law allows parents to tell schools not to give certain surveys to their children," he said. He said the same right to opt out of completing the surveys is given to high school students aged 18 and older.
As part of the settlement, NRCCUA will make a payment of $300,000 to the states to be used for attorneys' fees and investigative costs, consumer education, litigation, or for public protection or local consumer aid funds.
The 42 states joining the AVC are: AK, AL, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, HI, ID, IL, IA, KY, LA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NJ, NY, NV, NC, ND, NM, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY.
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