BOSTON American universities are balking at a new website that lets students and their families "bid" on-line to find a university willing to enrol them at fees they determine in much the way consumers bid online for airline tickets.
Students do not learn the identity of the university they might attend unless their bid is accepted, and they may decline with no further obligation.
The educational consultant behind the idea called the criticism hypocritical, saying Amer-
ican universities commonly negotiate for students by discounting their tuition fees to fill classes or attract top scholars or athletes.
The free site, eCollegebid.org allows families to specify what they are willing to pay, along with the student's grades and area of study. Participating universities then review the offers.
The universities pay a flat annual fee. About a dozen have signed up so far and more are expected to join. The service will not say which ones, though it concedes that none is a big name.
"They are mostly private colleges that are not household names and do not often make the rankings found in the popular media," the company said.
"They are, however, colleges that offer challenging academic programmes of study, excellent athletic programmes and active student and social activities."
The National Association of College Admissions Counselers has started an investigation into whether universities that sign up for eCollegebid.org violate the organisation's ethical principles by giving students only 30 days to accept an offer, or by failing to disclose the true full price.
But founder Tedd Kelly, a former university admissions officer, said his site gives students the power they deserve as consumers as well as streamlining admissions and recruiting pro-