Report Shows 40+ Colleges Are Tracking Applicant Browsing History on School Website

Many U.S. colleges and universities are tracking prospective student behavior on university websites, according to the Washington Post. Cover photo courtesy of Pixabay 

Shayleigh Frank
News Staff Writer

A new era of college admissions has begun. Colleges and universities now have more access than ever to interested student’s information.

Many colleges are keeping track of applicants through cookies embedded in university websites. Cookies keep track of what users click on a particular site. For example, they’re the reason why advertisements appear for items you searched for days, or even hours, earlier.

According to records obtained by the Washington Post, at least 44 public and private universities in the U.S., including Marquette University, University of Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt University and nearby Wittenberg University have been working with outside consulting companies to collect and analyze data on prospective students. This is achieved by tracking web activity to calculate which students are most likely to enroll.

For instance, by examining which pages an applicant looks at and for how long, a university can predict which ones are most likely to enroll. So, they know to target those students.

When asked about using cookies to track prospective students, UD officials said the university does not use tracking software on its website as described in the Washington Post article.

This method of selection raises questions about outcomes for underprivileged students. With administrators building profiles of prospective students, they can also use data analytics to decide if a person and their family have a necessary income to pay for college. Effectively, a college could use this data to target students who come from more affluent backgrounds. But they also could use this data to more effectively recruit students from working class backgrounds.

This type of cookie tracking provides new screening methods for universities and colleges looking into prospective students. Whether or not it is actually beneficial for colleges, the data tracking is popular at schools that are struggling financially.

While these tools may be assisting colleges and universities that are struggling to remain afloat, it has been questioned if it’s an invasion of privacy that adversely influences admission.

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