Why Lead Generation is Broken in Higher Education

September 21, 2022
7 min read

Student data has been commoditized. 

We should think carefully about what that means - morally, ethically, and financially. 

I believe the moral and ethical components of this fact are the most concerning and most overlooked, so I want to start there. But ultimately, the fastest way to drive change is by creating financial incentives in a new system that outperforms the incumbent system. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the current lead generation landscape, you may find the below a bit jarring. Don’t worry - there is a solution.

“Student data” means highly detailed personally identifiable information (PII) on a student, usually under the age of 18 and without meaningful consent to share. 

Re-read that second clause - “usually under the age of 18 and without meaningful consent to share” - and I hope it strikes a chord. I hope your mind jumps to what this means for your children, your nieces and nephews, your grandchildren - they are the victims here.

PII itself is not bad. In fact, it is vitally important information both to the university and to the students wishing to enroll in it. After all, how could a student signal interest to a school without self-identifying? How could a school recruit a pool of unidentified students?

PII is necessary to efficiently match students with universities and allocate resources for recruiting.

But to build the PII system on top of loosely consensual data sharing by teenagers? Eh. 

Sure, there are “Terms of Use” and whatnot that, in theory, explain to the user what will happen when they provide their data. However, we all know that condones the issue on a technicality - virtually no one reads that legalese or even understands it. It’s shady at best.

In effect, the buyers and sellers of data in the existing system are not acting in good faith. The product is the student’s data, yet the student does not truly own their data and in no way benefits from the sale of the data. 

Not only have we dehumanized students down to a data point, but the data (student) is commoditized

I don’t simply mean the student and data can be bought and sold like pigs in a market.

By commoditized, I mean that the supply of this bad data (both ethically and financially bad) is so easily available for purchase from a multitude of sellers that it is effectively worthless

You will spend more money on a stick of gum than on the purchase of PII for a single student.

This begs a few key questions. 

How is the data so readily available? Shouldn’t it be difficult to get PII data on millions of students? If it is useless data because it’s commoditized, why do universities and graduate programs buy it in the first place? 

And, most importantly, is there a better alternative? 

I don’t like complaining about problems without providing a solution. So yes, there is an alternative that is not only morally and ethically superior, but it is financially thousands of times more efficient. This is not hyperbolic.

In order to fully appreciate the solution, I think it’s fundamental to understand the existing system and how it operates. 

  • Why do universities need to buy this bad data?
  • Why is it so financially inefficient for a university or program to buy and use this data?
  • Why is there an abundant supply of bad faith student PII?
  • What’s the solution?

CampusReel’s higher purpose is to bring people to the forefront of their educational communities and build digital connections and relationships. We solve for all the above issues of lead generation and student recruitment, but not by trying to override an existing system and serving as yet another vendor shilling bad faith PII into the market. 

You can’t fix the system from within. We see that in politics and big clunky companies, and education is no exception.

We are building an escape hatch, an “Emergency Exit”, from the existing system of student dehumanization. Our alternative is so much more desirable and efficient that people will simply leave the old system for the new one we’re creating.

My hope is that the 3rd party marketplace for student data fades entirely, or at least becomes a tiny fraction of what it is today. I don’t want it to fade because a politician eventually says, “Enough is enough. We can’t do this to our youth.” (although that time is probably coming soon) - I want the old system to die because economic Darwinism proves that the new system I’m going to detail outcompetes the old one.

So, what’s the ultimate reason why the current system exists as is? Because most universities cannot generate their own leads. Sounds simple enough...

The lead generation strategy of the future will never buy names from a 3rd party - it will generate its own data.

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