What is old is new.

In 2002 the then attorney general Spitzer worked to get a court order to bar a Lynbrook company from using a “fake” marketing scheme where the company sent schools a survey to complete by children to collect personal information and then used/sold that information to target sales pitches to children for items such as magazines, music videos, credit cards, clothes, cosmetics and student loans.

What is old is new.

We are now getting inundated with solicitations to place a “scholarship(s)” online or to notify our students about scholarships that our students cannot afford to not know about.  These are a scheme to collect personal information to market and sell that data. Often the entity will give away the $1,000 at random to stay legit.  The survey for a potential scholarship is used to collect extensive data and is then resold. The $1,000 is small change for the profits the marketing firm makes. They often present themselves as any number of names or companies.

When we as financial aid professionals, in our urge to assist our students, place these phony scholarships on our web sites or notify our students, we unwittingly help the marketing firms gather data and resell this data at extensive profits. The fake scholarship gimmick has become big business. At my school we must get at least 3-5 e-mails a week from various so called scholarships. If you try to locate information online about these awards you never find them.

What is old is new.

Maybe it is time for the current Attorney General to start looking into these marketing firms posing as scholarships? You would think our job would get easier?

One thought on “What is old is new.

  1. This was published on NASFAA Recently:

    Voices From The Aid Office: Best Practices for Identifying Scholarships
    By Allie Bidwell and Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

    With the end of the academic year around the corner, many students are budgeting and looking for ways to finance the next year of college. But with a plethora of information spread through websites, social media, and even directed email marketing, it’s hard to know which scholarship opportunities are legitimate. 

    While college is increasingly becoming out of reach for some students – many of whom are looking to scholarships as an option to help bridge the gap – it appears that financial aid offices are receiving an influx of solicitations from outside scholarship organizations, some of which might be more geared toward gathering student data than providing financial support, according to James Hayes, associate director of financial aid at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

    “We have more students asking about scholarships, which sort of compounds it for us. We’d like to do more – we don’t have a big endowment, so we’re always trying to look for things that are good for our students,” Hayes said. “We want to help students more, but we’re getting inundated with [companies that] say they’re a scholarship, but they’re collecting data and marketing it.”

    Websites that compile numerous scholarship offers can seem like an easy way to find cash for college, but many financial aid administrators said they often direct students away from those resources, opting instead for smaller community-based scholarships.

    “I typically encourage students to start with their local community,” Chandra Owen, training coordinator in the Office of Financial Aid at Michigan State University. “The pool of candidates is smaller than the national scholarship searches, increasing the chance they will receive an award.”

    Owen also advises her students to do some research on potential scholarships, including how many awards are given out and whether the application requires any personal information that does not pertain to the scholarship like social security numbers or access to social media accounts.

    Another potential red flag students should look for is when the awards will be selected and disbursed, as some might take up to a year or more, said Kevin Reed, assistant director of financial aid a Trevecca Nazarene University. Some scholarships are “more like a sweepstakes rather than a rigorous process,” he said, adding that he advises students to “find niche scholarships that pertain” to who they are as individuals and what their interests are.

    Some institutions will post link to scholarship search websites, but many do so with caution.

    “When faced with deciding which search sites to list on our website, I struggle with a lack of information about the sites that would help us decide where the direct students,” said David Horne, director of financial aid at Towson University. “All the sites seem to struggle with finding the right balance between suggesting more scholarships, and accurately suggesting scholarships that match students’ profiles.”
    Towson’s financial aid office maintains a webpage that serves as a bulletin board for scholarship offers, though Horne said he only posts scholarship offers that have a specific connection to Towson or the state of Maryland.

    Lloyd Mueller, director of financial aid at Clastop Community College in Oregon, on the other hand, said he no longer promotes any national scholarship databases, or any unsolicited scholarship promotions he receives.

    “I can’t determine what is a real scholarship search engine or real scholarship, and what is just an attempt to harvest student data or expose students to risky computer behavior,” Mueller said.
    When he gives presentations to local high school students, and to potential students visiting campus, Mueller said he only recommends the scholarship search and application process administered through the state of Oregon’s Office of Student Access and Completion, the high school’s own scholarship process, or Clastop Community College’s own scholarships.

    “Predatory information gathering practices have eliminated what might have been at one time a useful service,” he said. “I’ve thought about this problem a lot, and have come to the conclusion that students do not need to be encouraged to search and apply for scholarships without a full understanding of the risks involved.”

    At MSU, Owen and her colleagues in the financial aid office encourage other campus offices to run potential scholarship opportunities by them to make sure it will benefit students and that they are legitimate offers. Those situations also present an opportunity to educate other campus employees and officials about financial aid, unmet need, and “how to find the right people to help and find that true need for an additional award,” Owen said.

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