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April 13, 2018

Justice Department 'antitrust' probe includes Bates, Bowdoin and Colby colleges

The U.S. Department of Justice has notified Bates, Bowdoin and Colby colleges that they are included in an investigation into whether U.S. colleges and universities are violating antitrust laws by exchanging information among themselves about early decision students seeking admission to multiple colleges.

The New York Times reported that it’s not known how many schools received the letter sent last week by the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which enforces laws governing fair consumer and competitive market practices.  Maine Public reported that communications offices for the three Maine colleges confirmed they have been contacted by the Justice Department and are complying with its requests.

The New York Times quoted a Justice Department letter stating that the investigation focuses on “a potential agreement between colleges relating to their early decision practices.” The Times also cited a 2016 U.S. News article in which Amherst College’s dean of admissions said the college and about 30 others shared lists of students admitted through early decision and was open to sharing names of students who chose not to attend and their reasons for declining.

The Times reported that Amherst College is among the colleges and universities contacted by the Justice Department last week.

Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, told the Times that he found the inquiry surprising, since the early decision practice had been around for a long time without the antitrust issue being raised previously. Hartle said only about 200 schools out of the more than 4,000 in the country use the process.

“Given that this doesn’t affect many schools, or many students, it’s the ultimate first-world problem,” he told the Times.

The Bowdoin Orient student newspaper reported that in addition to Bowdoin, Bates, Colby and Amherst being contacted, the Justice Department also sent the notification letter to Hamilton, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Williams and Tufts. 

A Bowdoin College spokesman confirmed to the student newspaper that the college had received the Justice Department letter last Friday but declined further comment.

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