• At least 44 public and private US colleges reportedly work with consulting firms to help track this data.
  • Schools can build profiles on applicants that predict how likely they are to need financial aid, using data like how long they spend on the school's financial aid page, according to the Post.
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At least 44 US colleges and universities have hired private consulting firms to help them track applicants who visit their websites, Douglas MacMillan and Nick Anderson at The Washington Post recently reported.

The Post obtained this data by looking at the client list of two education consulting firms, Capture Higher Ed and Ruffalo Noel Levitz, and the paper confirmed the use of Capture's tracking software on 33 school's websites.

Tracking software allows schools to build profiles of applicants based on information about the web pages they visited and how long they were on each one. That information, combined with test scores and zip code, reportedly gives schools a picture of how likely a particular student is to apply, and to attend if accepted. The Post reported that many schools use this data to assign a student a score out of 100, rating how likely they are to attend.

Seeing how long students spend on pages of the website gives the school information about a student. For example, they can infer that students who spend more time on the financial aid page are more likely to need financial aid, according to The Washington Post. Schools can use this information to court students who can pay full price, and help them balance their budgets.

Most students do not know that their web activity could be tracked when visiting a college's website, and for some schools there is no way to opt out.

"You have a choice of not interacting at all," State University of New York Buffalo State College chief information officer told The Post. She explained that students who don't wish to be tracked could get information other ways, like by calling the school or using other third-party websites that have information about colleges. Students can also email her directly to request not to be tracked, she said, although the issue the Post highlights is that many students don't know that they're being tracked in the first place.

SUNY Buffalo State, Capture Higher Ed, and Ruffalo Noel Levitz did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Read the full report over at The Washington Post.

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