CollegeNet’s Challenge to Common App.

Common App, Common Application, Challenge to Common Application

We have long believed that Common App. unfairly restrains trade, particularly at our nation’s most elite universities (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

As our United States Justice Department sues to try to block the AT&T / Time Warner merger, we thought we’d revisit our discussion of the lawsuit brought by CollegeNet, the maker of the Coalition application platform, against the Common Application. CollegeNet has been involved in a legal battle with the Common Application for three years now that concerns whether or not the Common Application restrains trade, a violation of law in our free market American economy. CollegeNet, of course, is the proverbial little guy in the college application space. Common App. is the marketshare-leading college application platform and it has been for many years. In 2013, before CollegeNet ever filed suit against the Common Application, we at Ivy Coach raised the question on the pages of our college admissions blog as well as in the press of whether or not Common App.’s tactics to financially incentivize universities to offer their application platform on an exclusive basis was an illicit attempt to restrain trade and monopolize the college application industry. So let’s check in on CollegeNet’s lawsuit against Common App. to see where exactly things stand.

CollegeNet’s Challenge to Common App.

A terrific piece entitled “Online College Application Nonprofit Fights Antitrust Claims” by Eleanor Tyler in “Bloomberg Law’s” “Antitrust & Trade Regulation Report” highlights CollegeNet’s legal challenge to Common App. Ivy Coach is cited in this piece. As Tyler writes, “An online platform used by more than 1 million students every year to apply to hundreds of colleges — including Harvard, Stanford, Rice, and Howard University — faces Round Two on a rival’s claims that it muscled other application services out of the market…CollegeNET Inc.’s complaint is against the most-used online platform, The Common Application (TCA). CollegeNET says TCA conspired with 549 nonprofit colleges and universities, which aren’t named as defendants, to homogenize the market and exclude rival systems…The district court earlier dismissed CollegeNET’s suit for lack of standing, concluding that it failed to allege an antitrust harm to consumers. But the appeals court, in a short memorandum opinion, said CollegeNET’s allegations of competitive injury are enough to clear the first hurdle in litigation.” So score one for CollegeNet!

Tyler continues, “‘We’ve been arguing for many years that it was a restraint of trade,’ Brian Taylor, managing director at the admissions consulting firm Ivy Coach, told Bloomberg Law. ‘CollegeNET had the chutzpah to file a lawsuit — and we firmly support them.’…Ivy Coach’s Taylor said TCA’s application platform is superior to CollegeNET’s in terms of ease of use. But he still believes TCA’s practices violated free-market principles.”

You see, we at Ivy Coach don’t have a horse in this race. When one of our students is applying to a highly selective college, that student is our horse in a race. But with respect to the battle between CollegeNet and Common App., we are only pulling for CollegeNet because we wholeheartedly agree with their assertion that Common App. has in the past used unfair trade tactics to enhance their marketshare — particularly at highly selective American universities. We believe these unfair trade tactics to be unpatriotic.

The Common Application Platform Remains Superior

Now does that mean we believe that CollegeNet’s application platform is superior to Common App.’s platform. No! On the contrary, we believe these platforms to be apples and oranges. If Common App.’s platform is the equivalent of NBA-level basketball, then CollegeNet’s platform is the equivalent of middle school JV ball. We’ve previously outlined some of our gripes with CollegeNet’s platform and although we believe CollegeNet should win this legal challenge against Common App., so long as their platform remains inferior, Ivy Coach’s famously accurate crystal ball predicts they will never truly challenge Common App.’s dominant marketshare.

But we’ll continue to check in on CollegeNet’s antitrust claims against Common App. in the weeks and months ahead. So stay tuned!


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