Alumni Associations And Public Universities Profit By Selling Student Data To Bank Of America

We stumbled across a very interesting article in the Des Moines Register that discusses the methods public universities’ alumni associations (in this case, the University of Iowa and ISU) use to obtain and sell student data.

From the Des Moines Register:

Last year, representatives of Bank of America sat down to negotiate a deal that would guarantee the company access to the home addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of University of Iowa students and parents.

But they didn’t deal directly with school officials. Instead, they talked to representatives of the school’s privately run alumni organization.

The two eventually signed a confidential credit card marketing agreement in which the bank agreed to pay the alumni association an undisclosed amount of money.

The alumni association then signed a related contract with the university guaranteeing the association – and, by extension, Bank of America – access to publicly owned databases of information on students, parents and fans who attend football and basketball games.

It was a roundabout way of doing things, but it’s an approach Bank of America and other credit card companies have used at many U.S. schools. It enables some of the world’s largest financial institutions to keep secret the amount of money they pay to use the assets – and even the student athletes – of public universities.

The alumni associations say that because they are private, nonprofit corporations, they’re not subjected to public-disclosure laws that would otherwise force them to reveal their contracts with Bank of America. With the associations acting as a conduit between public schools and Bank of America, the money that changes hands as the banks gain exclusive access to a campus remains largely hidden from view.

Robert Manning, a professor of consumer finance at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, calls that process a form of legalized money laundering that is intended to obscure the flow of cash between public institutions and private corporations.

The Register claims that the deals give information and access to Bank of America that goes beyond what the general public gets.

For example, a memo of understanding between the U of I and its alumni association states that in connection with the credit card program the school “may, from time to time, disclose to the association” both public information and unspecified “non-public information.” It goes on to say that the university must provide, if asked, updated addresses and phone numbers of students and parents for use in Bank of America’s credit card marketing program.

The U of I’s current contract with Bank of America calls for the athletics department to give the bank access to its electronic e-mail list

The Register also reports that the University itself benefits from the Bank of America relationship through donations from the Alumni association, including $20,000 annually to help pay for “credit card education and counseling for students.” Cute.

University data deals shroud money [Des Moines Register]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Leah says:

    I’m sure even some big schools sell student data. There’s no other way to explain why I get junk mail (mostly credit card offers) at an address that I’ve only given to my school.

  2. jwarner132 says:

    My school does this. I recently got a credit card offer from JP Morgan I think that included a letter written by my Alumni Association President. Apparently 1/2% of my purchases or something get donated to the school when I use the card. The only problem is that the “Alumni Association President” who “wrote” the letter hasn’t been the president in over a year.

    That reminds me, I need to call and scream at the Alumni Association for whoring out my information.

  3. gorckat says:

    What is it with the Des Moines Register today? I read another article in it linked by another blog…

  4. micahd says:

    Wow, “credit card education and counseling”

    I bet that’s a lovely look at what a BOA card can do for you… more schools need to take responsibility for educating their students about the dangers of consumer debt.

  5. Karl says:

    One way you might be able to protect yourself is to restrict the release of your directory information under FERPA. I don’t know how this applies to alumni, though, or whether alumni associations are somehow exempt (for example, the University of Washington has given my information to the UWAA even though I’ve restricted the release of my directory info).

  6. As an employee of the University of Iowa I would like to assure you that all ‘donations’ made are used to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy and keep would be hobos like myself off the street. GO HAWKS!

  7. RogerDucky says:

    My school has the “school branded” credit card with BoA also. As I understood it, the deal goes both ways — the credit card company gets marketing data from the alumni association to get you to apply for their credit card. But, if you were to apply for the card, the credit card company also gives out your address to your alumni association so the association can send their donation solicitations to you with your most up-to-date address, too.

    I got the school card, moved, updated my addreses with the credit card company, and the alumni association sent all solicitations to my new address without me having to fill out a change of address form.

    So, in the two organization’s view, it’s a win-win situation for them to do this.

  8. technotica says:

    I’m an employee and alumni of Iowa State (go Cyclones…nyah nyah Hawkeyes :D). I saw this in the Register this weekend and fail to see how this is front page Sunday news. ISU (not sure about U of I) is fairly obvious and straight out with how it sells student information as well as the Alumni Association.

    Basically the way I understand is that any student can opt out of being included in the main ISU directory. ISU does make available student emails (hence the 20 billion email apartment advertisements in the fall) for a nominal fee. And its not like you have to go to some office and sign some paperwork – you can easily opt-out online. I will agree that it is annoying, but no one is forcing you to set up an account.

    Alumni association is different, and for all fairness we do have their BoA card (when we signed up it was MBNA). Fees, APR, and credit limit were good. However its not like anyone forces you to join the Alumni Association.

    Hate to say it, but I think this is more inflammatory reporting from the Des Moines Register. I think they’re still peeved that Wellmark (Blue Cross & Blue Shield) attempted to ‘gift’ the university money to rename the College of Public Health into the ‘Wellmark’ College of Public Health. Yes, I agree it was a dumb idea.

  9. gunboats says:

    I get credit card offers on my university’s letter head from BofA (Washington University in St. Louis). And when I moved a few times in a year, everytime I would update my info in their directory, the offers would start coming again. I called them up and asked if they were selling my information, and they assured me that they were not, even though my address was not shared with other’s, and even if it was, it wouldn’t be tied to my association with the university. I think I asked them if the money they made from selling my info counted as me making a donation, and if so, could the please stop asking for more money from me.

  10. FLConsumer says:

    Interesting… When I first enrolled at my current Uni, I personally went to the registrar’s office and filled out a form requiring the Uni to keep ALL information about me & my time there private. I wonder if this applies to the alumni assoc. as well.

  11. UpsetPanda says:

    I got this too. I mean, the alumni association and university has my address, but did I ever expect to be hounded for a credit card? I mean, they were warning students not to accept “just any” credit card offer, but as soon as I graduate they think it’s fine to send me junk mail telling me I can benefit from their card offer?

  12. catchthefever says:

    My University sold me out, too. Not only am I hounded for a credit card, but home equity lines of credit. Bank of America will only remove me from a particular offer, not from ever receiving crap again. Ever. I told them that I’d rather be shot in the head, left for dead, and pecked by buzzards before banking with them, but the junk mail keeps a rollin’.

  13. Tankueray says:

    I got a “pay off your student loans and debt” offer from BoA and my alumni association the other day. No card associated with it, just a loan to pay off my debt, and a percentage of it would go to the alumni association. Like I’m going to take my student loans at a low, fixed interest rate and put them into a loan from them at whatever their rate is… unbelievable.