Education Advertising Must be Transparent and Easy to Understand to Best Protect Prospective Students
By Mitch Talenfeld, CEO, MDT Marketing
Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU), a national organization serving postsecondary career education schools, their staff and students, recently released Compliance & Best Practices in Student Inquiry Generation: A Guide for Schools. As one of the most comprehensive published pieces ever produced by CECU, the document provides institutions nationwide with the best practices and procedures when working with third-party education marketing vendors.
Developed as a response to an August 2019 FTC settlement1 announcement with Career Education Corporation cementing that all advertisers, including schools, hold responsibility for their vendors’ actions, the Guide operates under the standard protocol that education advertising should be truthful and straightforward. The 76-page report is meant to be used as a vital tool that will assist schools in managing their third-party marketing vendors more effectively.
Former President and CEO of CECU, Steve Gunderson writes in the preface: “In many ways, you (school leaders) are the bridge between the students you seek to serve; and the lead generators who provide raw data of students and student interests. In a sector serving a large adult population, lead generation is an appropriate vehicle to connect potential students with potential schools.”2
CECU’s aptly-named Student Inquiry Generation Compliance Taskforce, created the Guide to be centered on the belief that prospective students should be presented with 100% transparent and accurate information when faced with the life-changing decision of selecting the school and educational program that best suits them and their needs.
Comprised of over 30 top professionals from across the country, CECU Taskforce volunteers worked countless hours, contributing their extensive knowledge and expertise to tackle third-party lead generation industry challenges that have plagued schools and their students since the infancy of the Internet. The group consisted of experts in education, education marketing, consumer and marketing law, and education compliance, joining together for one common objective, which is noted in their first Taskforce communication.
“The goal of the Student Inquiry Compliance Taskforce was to create a comprehensive best practices marketing and compliance document that will protect and empower students, educate school members to the inner-workings of the third-party inquiry generation business, and make education leadership aware of the demands the Federal Trade Commission is placing on the advertisers – as the FTC outlined in its settlement with Career Education Corporation.”3
Divided into three sections plus the Appendices, Compliance & Best Practices in Student Inquiry Generation: A Guide for Schools was released in late 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the sincere desire that institutions will build or update their existing third-party lead generator processes accordingly to ensure marketing messages are honest, easy-to-understand and compliant with education and marketing laws.
“There may not be a more appropriate time for the release and use of this report. Our politics are polarized. Our economy feels paralyzed. Yet, our citizens seek new skills and new careers in numbers unheard of since the Great Depression. We have been called, as a sector, to serve. We must do so in ways that bring success to our students, our schools, and our sector,” stated taskforce Co-Chairs Mitch Talenfeld, CEO of MDT Marketing, and Dr. James Hutton, CEO of Career Quest Learning Centers, Inc.4
The first section of the Guide, titled “The Lead Generation Landscape,” directs a school’s attention to what should be their intended top professional focus during the inquiry process: protecting their students. This segment aims to equip schools with the knowledge to understand the entire lifecycle of third-party lead generation from start to finish, including its intricacies and nuances. Most importantly, it contains detailed information that is needed to detect unscrupulous and non-compliant methods that are sometimes utilized by third-party lead generation companies to cultivate leads on their behalf.
Next, the Guide dives deeply into explaining multifaceted marketing law with the section “Laws and Regulations,” which is an extensive review of the most directly applicable laws and regulations you need to know relating to lead generation.
Section Two includes the laws, regulations, and standards, broken down into three categories: 1) Laws and regulations regarding the content of advertising and other representations; 2) Laws regulating unwanted contacts by marketers; and 3) Other privacy laws. The section concludes with a final discussion regarding incentive compensation compliance and how it relates to third-party marketing partners.
The third part of the Guide, “Best Practices with Third-Pary Lead Generation Procedures,” includes step-by-step best practices and third-party lead generation guidance that schools can use to protect themselves and their students. This section provides essential questions for school leaders to ask and a roadmap for school leaders to follow in the pre-launch and post-launch of third-party lead generation marketing. Also, included are best practice benchmark suggestions throughout the lifecycle of the third-party lead generation process.
Section Three was written to accommodate the needs of a broad range of schools with varying degrees of interaction with lead generators. It details how schools can manage their work in ways that prioritize compliance with laws and regulations. As reiterated, the FTC has stated that institutions legally bear responsibility for any marketing activity done on their behalf. Therefore, consulting with legal counsel and determining and adapting a plan is strongly advised. Noting:
“Institutional-level operational decisions need to be made by a school’s leadership, including processes, technologies, and systems that are a part of managing and monitoring vendor performance and vendor compliance … Regardless, of an institution’s marketing or admissions’ projections or forecasted expectations, there is never a reason to consider vendors or inquiry-generation sources that are not fully compliant with legal, compliance, and brand standards.”5
The last section, the Appendices, contains two significant FTC Stipulated Orders for Permanent Injunction and Monetary Judgments. Appendix A is an order dated July 26, 2019. Defendants include Career Education Corporation, American Continental University, Inc., AIU Online, LLC., and Marlin Acquisition Corp. Appendix B dated December 10, 2019, is an order against The University of Phoenix. The Taskforce included these orders in the report so education leaders who work with third-party lead generation companies fully realize the gravity and importance of this guidance.
Ideally, education leadership at each institution will review the Guide and consider the sections and items relevant and applicable to their specific settings.
Now available, CECU education members will each receive their own individual hard copies of Compliance & Best Practices in Student Inquiry Generation: A Guide for Schools. Additionally, CECU will offer live webinar discussions with the panel of authors to introduce the report and answer any questions related to third-party lead generation compliance.
For more information or to download a digital version, visit www.career.org.
On a Personal Note:
I was infuriated when I read the September 2018 Federal Trade Commission press release titled: FTC Takes Action Against the Operators of Copycat Military Websites6, an article about companies falsely posing as military recruiters to generate leads for postsecondary schools. I was angry because as hard as we’ve tried, there are still lead generation companies who are non-compliant, or worse, in this case, unbeknownst to us, doing illegal activities to make money by getting our schools leads.
Dr. James Hutton and I have co-chaired three, APSCU then, CECU third-party lead compliance taskforces together, on and off, for more than a decade. We have battled with the largest lead generators in the country (many of which are out of business today) to make sure that students received the information they needed to make educational choices that were right for them. And we have worked hard over the years to get lead vendors to be transparent with their lead generation processes and treat our students with dignity and respect.
But finding and stopping illegal or non-compliant third-party lead generation activities has been a considerable challenge. Difficult because of the complexities built into lead generation business models. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve achieved more than a little success. Almost all of today’s education lead generation companies have changed their business models and are working as allies to schools. And most importantly, in our students’ best interests. But it is evident that we still have work to do.
The Compliance & Best Practices in Student Inquiry Generation: A Guide for Schools is a significant step. The report gives schools, large and small, the tools to control their messaging better. But we are not done!
In the coming weeks and months, we will be working on a CECU lead generation training program for education vendors, which participating schools can utilize by requiring third-party lead generation vendor employees to take and become certified. When completed, I hope that the program will create an added level-of-protection for vendors, schools, and students. And when we finish the vendor lead certification program, and it is off the ground, perhaps then, I will feel good about finally having made a difference that really matters!
- Compliance & Best Practices in Student Inquiry Generation: A Guide for Schools
MITCH TALENFELD is CEO of MDT Marketing, a student recruitment marketing and technology company. He is also the Career Education Colleges and Universities Allied Board Member and serves as the co-chair of the 30-person CECU Student Inquiry Compliance Taskforce.
Before being elected to the CECU Board, Mitch spent more than a decade on the Florida Association of Post Secondary Schools and Colleges (FAPSC) Board of Directors. And finally, Mitch has received numerous state and national awards for his commitment and the work he has done to improve career education.
About MDT Marketing: In its 26th year, MDT Marketing is an Internet marketing, a marketing technology, and a digital printing and mailing company. It comprises a seasoned team of marketing experts who career institutional education leaders entrust to develop compliant communication strategies, personalized to their students and student needs, and highlight what differentiates their institutions from all others. The bottom line: MDT Marketing helps schools find more students who belong. More students who graduate. And more students who improve the trajectory of their lives.
After spending over 40 years attempting and failing to attain his degree from a community college, Mitch changed direction and earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies as a private-sector online student at Keiser University. As a result of this experience, he knows and understands the struggles and challenges working adults face and the impact private sector innovative solutions can have on student success.
Contact Information: Mitch Talenfeld // CEO // MDT Marketing // 954-764-2630 // firstname.lastname@example.org // www.mdtmarketing.com // https://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchtalenfeld