Big price, big perks: Business Platinum Card from American Express review - Up News Info

Big price, big perks: Business Platinum Card from American Express review - Up News Info


Big price, big perks: Business Platinum Card from American Express review - Up News Info

Posted: 01 Oct 2020 05:24 AM PDT

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With premium credit cards becoming the norm these days, many people are getting more comfortable with the idea of paying $400+ in annual fees to hold the right credit card. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express stands out above that pack thanks to its record-setting $595 annual fee (see rates and fees), but I still jumped at the chance to apply for this card because of its sweet welcome offers. The deal has now gotten even sweeter, with the Business Platinum offering a welcome offer of 75,000 points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Verizon is offering the Pixel 4a for just $10/mo on new Unlimited lines

Amex also added some new limited-time cardholder benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.

Just be warned — between a high minimum spending requirement and several business-focused perks, this card certainly won't be right for every business, especially ones that don't accrue major travel expenses or whose primary spending categories are more in line with the bonus categories offered by other business credit cards. So, let's consider whether the Business Platinum card is a good fit for you.

Who is this card for?

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The Business Platinum Card is best suited for small business owners who charge thousands of dollars in monthly business expenses to their cards, are heavy travelers and can take advantage of the card's premium benefits. For these types of cardholders, the benefits and earnings can justify the $595 annual fee (see rates and fees).

For many cardholders, the best perk is access to the issuer's growing collection of Centurion Lounges. Centurion Lounges are some of the nicest lounges in the U.S. and cardholders of the American Express Centurion Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Business Platinum Card get access for themselves and up to two guests, regardless of their airline or class of service. While they've been closed the past few months, some will begin reopening in early October.

Amex offers access to hundreds of locations, beyond its own Centurion Lounge network. Photo by Zach Honig.

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That being said, the lounges have tightened up access policies — so you won't get access more than three hours before departure nor upon arrival without a connecting boarding pass. But the dining and drink options will still provide value if you live near or frequently travel to the airports that currently feature these lounges. You also have access to Priority Pass and Delta Sky Clubs (on same-day travel on Delta flights), along with Airspace and Escape lounges.

Related: Which airline lounges in the U.S. are currently open?

There are several travel-related distinctions between the personal and business versions of this card that should be considered. Perhaps the most important of these distinctions is a 35% rebate available to Business Platinum members who book a business or first-class ticket — or any class flight with their selected qualifying airline — through American Express Travel using Membership Rewards points. Rebates are capped at 500,000 points a year, which may be low for companies looking to offset more of their travel expenses.

Likewise, only personal Platinum members have access to up to $200 in annual Uber credits, up to $100 in annual Saks credits and 5x earning on flights booked directly with airlines and prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.

Related: The different flavors of American Express Platinum — which one is right for you?

American Express Platinum Business American Express Platinum CREDIT CARD STILL LIFE

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A welcome offer worth $1,500

Based on TPG's valuations, Membership Rewards points are worth 2 cents apiece. So, if you can manage the hefty $15,000 spend requirement to earn the 75,000-point offer, you'll earn points worth about $1,500.

The Business Platinum Card welcome offer is more rewarding than the welcome offer on the personal Amex Platinum card, which offers 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 within the first three months from account opening. You can also check the CardMatch Tool to see if you're targeted for a 100,000-point Platinum Card offer (offer is subject to change at any time).

But, that slight downgrade in bonus value comes with a significantly reduced spend requirement. Your typical monthly business expenses may help you determine which card is the more valuable choice. If you have a smaller business but are still interested in opening the Business Platinum card, you might want to consider prepaying as many expenses as you can afford to during your first three months to help earn your welcome offer.

Benefits and perks

After you get over the initial shock of the $595 annual fee (see rates and fees,amp;c_issuer=American+Express,amp;c_location=unknown,amp;c_positionId=3,amp;c_exitPageId=https%3A%2F%2Fthepointsguy.com%2Fguide%2Famex-business-platinum-card-review%2F)), the Amex Business Platinum really shines when it comes to travel perks. When your travels don't take you to an airport that offers a Centurion Lounge, you'll have wider access to The American Express Global Lounge Collection. It includes more than 1,300 Priority Pass lounges worldwide, as well as Delta Sky Club lounges you can access when you're doing same-day flying Delta. You'll also have access to Airspace lounges, Escape lounges and American Express International Lounge locations.

While Centurion lounges are generally well-regarded for the improved experience they offer over the average Priority Pass lounge, there have been two long-standing complaints about the program: There aren't enough lounges, and the existing ones often get incredibly crowded.

Amex is actively addressing both of these concerns and is set to open three new Centurion lounge locations by the end of 2020 (including its second-ever international location at London Heathrow). In terms of the overcrowding issue, Amex has imposed limits so you can only access the lounges three hours before your flight and only on arrival if you have a connecting boarding pass.

The SkyTeam Lounge at YVR is an excellent Priority Pass lounge.

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Any premium travel rewards card worth its fee also offers reimbursement for a Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) application fee every four to five years. The Business Platinum Card is no exception, giving you a reimbursement for your application fee once every four years for Global Entry and once every 4.5 years for TSA PreCheck.

You'll earn an annual $200 airline fee credit that can be used for incidentals such as baggage fees or seat selection fees. You'll have to designate a single airline, which will be the same one you will get a 35% Pay with Points rebate for. The airline fee credit can't be used to purchase airfare, so keep that in mind.

You'll also have access to up to $200 in statement credits each year for any U.S. Dell technology purchases. This credit works like the $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit on the personal The Platinum Card® from American Express (see rates and fees) in that it's split into two different statement credits. So, you'll get a statement credit for up to $100 on U.S. Dell purchases between January and June and another credit for up to $100 off U.S. Dell purchases between July and December.

However, due to the pandemic, Amex bumped the value of this benefit and is now offering up to $100 in additional statement credits for U.S. purchases with Dell through Dec. 31, 2020. Amex is also offering up to $20 in statement credits per month on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers through December, as well as up to $20 in statement credits per month on U.S. purchases for shipping.

Related: The latest credit card benefit changes you need to know about

Amex American Express Business Platinum Credit Card

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As for benefits that come in handy once you reach your destination, this card gives you Gold status with Hilton Honors and Gold Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy, which provides better earnings and benefits during stays with these two brands. You can get elite-type perks at other hotels through Amex's Fine Hotels & Resorts program.

When you book a stay at a Fine Hotels & Resorts property through Amex Travel, benefits include noon check-in if available, guaranteed 4:00 p.m. checkout, a room upgrade if available, daily breakfast for two and a unique amenity valued at $100 or more.

If you book a prepaid stay online, you'll earn 5x points and (sometimes) get elite benefits during your stay. Cardmembers also have access to the Hotel Collection, which offers an up to $100 on-site credit at select properties when you book a stay of two nights or longer through Amex Travel.

(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Source: The Points Guy

The Amex Business Platinum Card also features extended warranty protection that matches eligible U.S. manufacturer warranties of two years or less and extended eligible U.S. manufacturer warranties of two to five years by two years. Additionally, purchases on your card are protected from accidental damage or theft for up to 120 days from the moment you purchase them.

Besides these benefits, there are also many other benefits, including the International Airline Program, Cruise Privileges Program, Premium Roadside Assistance, Upgrade with Points and access to the Auto Purchasing Program.

Related: 10 Things To Do When You Get the American Express Business Platinum Card

Earning

Rewards on most spending with the Business Platinum Card are pretty subpar at 1 point per dollar spent, a 2% return based on TPG's valuations. For businesses with significant expenses, Amex will add a slight incentive to coax you to use its card: All purchases of $5,000 or more earn 1.5x points per dollar (a 3% return), up to one million extra points per year.

Everyday office spending is not the reason to get this card, though. You'll earn 5x points when you purchase airfare and prepaid hotel rooms on AmexTravel.com (including Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts). That's the same 10% return as you'll see on the personal Platinum Card, although with the personal Amex Platinum Card you also get 5x points on airfare booked directly with airlines.

(Photo courtesy of Park Hyatt New York Sky Suite)

Source: The Points Guy

Simply put, the Business Platinum card is not going to be the one you want to use for a majority of your purchases. This card excels when it comes to travel spending and perks, but don't feel like you have to keep it at the front of your wallet just because you're paying more for it.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About American Express Membership Rewards

Redeeming

You can redeem your points for gift cards, through Amazon or other online retailers, to pay for charges on your bill or even to pay your taxi fare in New York City. However, these options all significantly devalue your rewards to 1 cent per point or less and we strongly recommend against using your points this way.

The most lucrative way to redeem points is to transfer them to one of 22 Amex partner airlines or hotels. Going this route may take a bit of sleuthing, but a little work can help increase the value of your points significantly above the TPG valuation. Regardless of whether you want to fly on Oneworld, Star Alliance or Sky Team airlines — or stay at Choice, Hilton or Marriott properties — many sweet spots can be unlocked with Amex Membership Rewards points.

(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Source: The Points Guy

Want the easiest redemption option that still offers decent value? If you redeem your points via American Express Travel Pay with Points, they're worth about 1.54 cents per point toward first and business class flights on any airline as well as economy class flights on your selected airline because of the 35% Pay with Points rebate. That's a higher return than you'll earn booking travel on Amex with the personal Platinum card (1 cent per point) and it's about on par with what you'd get with the Chase Sapphire Reserve when using Chase Ultimate Rewards to book travel through the issuer's portal (1.5 cents per point). But, note that the 35% rebate is capped at 500,000 points per calendar year.

You'll also want to keep an eye out for transfer bonuses, which Amex runs with some regularity. In the last year, we've seen a 40% bonus for transfers to British Airways Avios and a 30% bonus for transfers to Virgin Atlantic, which can help you score dirt cheap premium cabin awards on Delta and ANA.

Is the Amex Business Platinum a good fit for your business?

The Amex Business Platinum Card offers one of the most valuable welcome offers on the market right now. As such, any business that can hit the $20,000 spending requirement should seriously consider this card. But if we dig a little deeper, we can see that when Amex redesigned this card in February 2019, they had a specific type of customer in mind.

Everything about this card screams, "loud, established businesses." For starters, a smaller and newer company might struggle to meet the $20,000 minimum spending requirement and the last thing you would ever want to do is jeopardize your company's finances in the name of travel rewards. Add in the limited bonus categories (and the fact that one of the biggest bonus-earning options comes from making large purchases of $5,000 or more) and many small businesses out there will have trouble maximizing this card.

If you feel that your business might be too small to get the full value out of the Business Platinum card, you might want to consider other options. For instance, the American Express® Business Gold Card offers similar redemption options to the Business Platinum, but at a lower annual fee of $295 (see rates and fees).

This card offers six bonus categories, one of which is airfare purchased directly from airlines. It allows you to earn 4x points per dollar on the two categories where you spend the most each month (up to $150,000 in combined purchases for these two categories per calendar year; then 1x point thereafter).

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Source: The Points Guy

Alternatively, if you like the American Express Membership Rewards ecosystem and want to keep your cost as low as possible, take a look at The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express instead. This no-annual-fee credit card (see rates & fees) earns 2x Membership Rewards points (a 4% return) on your first $50,000 of annual purchases (then 1x), with no bonus categories to worry about. You'll earn 2x points whether you're spending $1 or $1,000, whether you're booking travel or buying furniture for your office. While you won't find many perks on a free credit card, the simplicity it affords will give you more time to focus on growing your business.

Finally, if travel isn't a big part of your business, look instead to top business cards that offer great rewards in categories like office supplies, internet service or computer equipment. A solid choice here is the Ink Business Cash Credit Card.

Bottom line

The Amex Business Platinum Card is a niche card that's perfect for the big traveler. While it might not be worth the money for business owners who don't count airfare and hotel stays among their largest business expenses, its travel perks are difficult, if not impossible, to beat. Even assuming the Amex Business Platinum's travel perks won't be useful for the time being, Amex is offering a variety of limited-time perks to retain cardholder value.

Here's the link to apply for The Business Platinum Card® from American Express with up to a 75,000-point bonus.

Benji Stawski contributed to this post.

For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum card, please click here.

For rates and fees of the Amex Business Gold, please click here.
****For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, please click here.

For rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus card, click here.

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Airlines to Furlough Tens of Thousands of Workers on Thursday - The New York Times

Posted: 01 Oct 2020 04:27 AM PDT

Credit...Josh Ritchie for The New York Times

Tens of thousands of airline workers are bracing for a wave of furloughs starting Thursday after a widely supported effort to renew federal stimulus funding for the industry failed to overcome a congressional stalemate.

American Airlines and United Airlines told employees on Wednesday night that they would proceed with more than 32,000 furloughs, though both companies said they would reverse course if lawmakers provided the funding the industry had sought.

"I am extremely sorry we have reached this outcome," Doug Parker, American's chief executive, said in a letter to staff. "It is not what you all deserve."

Passenger airlines received $25 billion in payroll funding under the March stimulus law known as the CARES Act, on the condition that they refrained from broad job cuts until Oct. 1. Unions representing airline workers had garnered bipartisan support in Congress for another round of aid in recent weeks, but the effort was caught in the deadlock over a broader stimulus package, even after airline executives pleaded their case in Washington.

The pandemic's toll on air travel and the industry has been so severe that tens of thousands of airline employees have already volunteered to take pay cuts, unpaid leave for an extended period, buyouts or early retirement.

Credit...Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

The tumultuous presidential debate on Tuesday night between President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. only added to concerns that a chaotic race to the November elections would further agitate the markets.

Companies big and small have been on a roller coaster as coronavirus cases in the United States have continued to rise, and policymakers in Washington have inspired little confidence that they are ready to pass additional pandemic relief.

The first presidential debate has only added to the risks facing business. Many business leaders were concerned about disruptions to a smooth transition of power if Mr. Trump lost, while others expressed dismay at Mr. Trump's refusal to condemn white supremacy and his suggestion that the Proud Boys, a far-right group, should be prepared to "stand back and stand by."

"People just want stability, some degree of normalcy," said Aaron Levie, chief executive of the tech company Box. "We want to understand what the geopolitical landscape looks like, what trade looks like, what immigration looks like. There's not a clear underlying philosophy that drives this administration, other than nationalism. You just can't predict the next move."

Mr. Levie said he was concerned that another term for Mr. Trump would lead to fewer foreign nationals coming to the United States to pursue education and professional opportunities, noting that many of the country's most successful companies have been started by immigrants.

Here's what others said:

  • "I do think that America does not look very stable is a problem," said Alex Karp, the chief executive of Palantir, a tech company that had its debut on Wall Street on Wednesday. "Fifty percent of our business is outside of America, and the fact that the global brand of America is really suffering could long-term impact our business."

  • Barry Sternlicht, a co-founder and the chief executive of Starwood Capital, a real estate investment fund, said at CNBC's "Delivering Alpha" conference that Mr. Trump's "stand back and stand by" comment "was it for me." He added: "I have no space in my life for that."

  • "It was hard to watch," said Mindy Grossman, the chief executive of Weight Watchers parent WW International. "It was hard to watch. We look at our leaders in a certain way and I don't think that was exemplified in the event last night"

  • "I can't tell you who won, but I can tell you who lost: that was the American people," Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, said on CNBC. "It was a waste of an hour and a half that gave no guidance, no direction at all over where the country will go after this election."

  • Lloyd Blankfein, who served as chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs until the end of 2018, tweeted that Mr. Trump's behavior at the debate has raised Mr. Biden's appeal among investors.

  • "I thought Trump was so horrible that he didn't do himself any good," said Michael Novogratz, a trader and merchant banker who is supporting Mr. Biden. "His rudeness, his facial anger, the whole body language was just so violent."

  • Ryan Gellert, the new chief executive of Patagonia, the popular outdoors brand, said the debate "was a real embarrassment to America and our leadership place in the world." He added: "The fact that we are now in advance debating the efficacy of an upcoming election and trying to delegitimize it — it's such a turn in the wrong direction."

  • Stocks climbed on Wednesday, but ended September with its first monthly loss since March.

  • The S&P 500 was 0.8 percent higher, after earlier gains of more than 1.5 percent faded late in the day. The benchmark fell nearly 4 percent in September.

  • That monthly decline came as investors worried about gridlock over a new economic stimulus plan. Those losses have been trimmed somewhat in recent days as negotiators tried to resume talks over a coronavirus relief package to provide aid to American families, businesses, schools, restaurants and airline workers. On Wednesday, the early rally came after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that he was giving stimulus talks "one more serious try."

  • A retreat in once high-flying technology stocks like Apple and Amazon has also weighed on the broad market this month. Apple dropped more than 10 percent in September. Amazon is down about 9 percent. Shares of both companies rose on Wednesday.

  • It may have helped on Wednesday that — despite its acrimonious tone — the presidential debate on Tuesday didn't lead to any unexpected policy announcements by President Trump or his rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

  • "Markets have remained calm as no policy surprises have emerged from the debate so far," wrote Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at Oanda. "The uncertainty ahead of the debate has subsided."

  • "Lost in the noise of the debate," Mr. Halley added, "China has released another impressive set of data." China's official Purchasing Managers Index, which covers large firms, and the private Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index, which includes an important measure of smaller export-oriented companies, both released stronger than expected numbers.

  • More numbers to come: On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department will release the nonfarm payroll data for September.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday said it would extend its ban on share buybacks by big banks as well as its cap on dividend payouts through the end of the year, a move the central bank said was an effort "to ensure that large banks maintain a high level of capital resilience" as pandemic-spurred economic uncertainty persists.

The Fed in June prevented banks from increasing their dividend payouts above second-quarter levels, with an additional limitation based on earnings, and banned stock buybacks. Those changes only lasted through the third quarter, and the central bank said in a statement earlier this month that it would "announce by the end of September" whether it would keep them in place.

The now-extended limitations apply to only the largest banks — those with more than $100 billion in total assets, which include firms like Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo. Preserving big bank capital — money that is readily available to be used — "provides a cushion against loan losses and supports lending," the Fed said.

Lael Brainard, a Federal Reserve governor who has previously indicated that she would prefer to shut off, rather than cap, dividend payouts, dissented against the decision.

While the Fed's decision stops short of cutting off dividends, the extended limitations may come as a disappointment to some banks. Share buybacks help boost a company's stock price, and higher dividends are obviously desired by investors.

JPMorgan Chase & Company had indicated that it might restart buybacks if allowed. Speaking at an investor conference in mid-September, Jennifer Piepszak, JPMorgan's chief financial officer, said that her bank "wouldn't rule out" resuming share buybacks in the coming quarter but that "it will obviously depend on whether we have regulatory constraints."

The Fed reiterated in its statement that it would conduct a second stress test — an analysis of how bank balance sheets hold up in bad circumstances — later this year. While stress tests are usually done annually, officials decided that it was prudent to re-examine bank health given the shaky economic backdrop.

"Results will be released by the end of the year," the Fed said.

Credit...Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Stephen Dickson, said on Wednesday that he was pleased with the changes that Boeing had made to its troubled 737 Max jet but that the regulator would not rush to clear the way for the plane to fly again.

Mr. Dickson, a former airline pilot, told reporters "I liked what I saw" after he flew the Max for two hours in the Seattle area, where Boeing makes and tests most of its planes.

"We're in the home stretch, but that doesn't mean we're going to take shortcuts to get it done by a certain date," Mr. Dickson said. He earlier had promised that the agency would not lift its March 2019 order grounding the plane until he flew it himself.

Mr. Dickson did not say when the plane would return to service, but analysts expect the agency to allow the Max to fly again by early next year.

The test flight came as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a bipartisan bill to strengthen the F.A.A., including its oversight of Boeing. In a scathing report this month, Democrats on the committee described the two 737 Max crashes that killed 346 people in Indonesia and Ethiopia as the "horrific culmination" of engineering flaws, mismanagement and a lack of oversight.

Still, the plane could soon be back in service. Last month, the F.A.A. determined that Boeing's proposed changes to the Max's design and crew training and maintenance procedures "effectively mitigate" the safety problems that contributed to the crashes. It is also finalizing an order, a draft of which was published last month, that would lift the grounding order. Once that happens, Boeing and the airlines that fly the Max will start getting the planes ready by checking the plane's systems, rerouting some internal wiring and training pilots.

Before Wednesday's flight, Mr. Dickson also received the recommended pilot training reviewed this month by the F.A.A. and aviation regulators in Canada, the European Union and Brazil. That aviation regulators's findings will be incorporated in a forthcoming F.A.A. report and is expected to include flight simulator training, which some experts have argued might have prevented the crashes had it been required earlier.

Credit...Rebecca Cook/Reuters

Dennis Williams, a former president of the United Auto Workers union, on Wednesday pleaded guilty to embezzling tens of thousands of dollars of union funds for lavish personal expenses and luxury travel and participating in a scheme with other senior union officials to conceal those activities.

Mr. Williams, 67, was president of the union from 2014 to 2018 and is one of 15 people who have been charged in a yearslong investigation into corruption at the U.A.W. by federal prosecutors in Detroit.

"Dennis Williams's guilty plea today shows that instead of fulfilling his fiduciary duty to his fellow union members, Williams chose to betray their trust and embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars from the U.A.W. for the personal benefit of himself and other high-ranking U.A.W. officers," Thomas Murray, district director at the Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards, said in a statement.

Prosecutors previously obtained guilty pleas from Mr. Williams's successor as president, Gary Jones, and other senior union officials. The leaders were charged with using union funds to pay for private villas in Palm Springs, Calif., expensive cigars, golfing apparel, greens fees at golf courses and lavish dinners.

The investigation, which has been led by U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, has also resulted in guilty pleas on other charges unrelated to embezzlement case by three former executives at Fiat Chrysler, a senior union official who once served on the board of directors for General Motors, and several other union officials.

The U.S. attorney, Matthew J. Schneider, has described the investigation as the largest of its kind into a labor union.

"Today's conviction demonstrates that we will continue our drive forward to provide ethical and honest leadership for the U.A.W.'s membership," he said on Wednesday.

Credit...Chris Creese for The New York Times

The National Association of Theater Owners, a trade organization for cinemas in the United States and beyond, has mostly put on a brave face during the pandemic: Movie theaters can and will get through this crisis.

On Wednesday, with cinemas still closed in New York and Los Angeles and studios having vacated most of the October release calendar, the group struck a very different tone in a letter to Congress pleading for financial help. "Absent a solution designed for their circumstances, theaters may not survive the impact of the pandemic," the letter said.

The theater association was joined by the Motion Picture Association, which represents the largest studios and Netflix; the Directors Guild of America; and 70 Hollywood heavyweights, including Martin Scorsese, Greta Gerwig, Clint Eastwood, Alfonso Cuarón, Lulu Wang, Christopher Nolan, Judd Apatow, James Cameron, Michael Bay, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, Barry Jenkins and Barbara Broccoli.

The letter said that "69 percent of small and midsize theater companies will be forced to file for bankruptcy or close permanently" without government help. The group suggested Congress could redirect unallocated CARES Act stimulus funds or enact new measures. Such theater closures would translate into 99,000 lost jobs.

Credit...Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

More than 60 percent of households with children in the United States reported serious financial problems — including struggles to afford medical care, depletion of household savings and difficulty paying credit card and other debts — during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new poll.

Black and Latino households with children bear the brunt of the hardships. Of the Latino households who responded, 86 percent reported these difficulties; in Black households, 66 percent reported them. In white households, the number hovers around 50 percent.

The immense differences were surprising, as they came after federal and state governments invested heavily in programs for communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic, said Robert Blendon, a director of the study behind the report and a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

"So much money was spent to put a cushion under households," Dr. Blendon said, adding that because of this, "the expenditures should have lowered for everybody." But, he said, "the numbers of people in trouble, that is the shock."

The poll, conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, surveyed more than 3,400 adults, 1,000 of whom were living with children under the age of 18, from July 1 to Aug. 3.

Now that some government measures to support households financially during the pandemic are waning, experts are concerned that the financial devastation could be worse than what the survey shows, said Julie Morita, the executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Now, Dr. Morita said, "households are probably suffering just as much if not more," leaving Black and Latino communities especially "unprotected."

The survey highlights other challenges faced by households with children during the pandemic. More than a third of them reported "serious problems" keeping children's education going. Six in 10 said that an adult in the home lost their job, was furloughed or had wages or hours cut. And in nine out of 10 households where someone contracted the coronavirus, they faced "serious financial problems" in addition to difficulty caring for their children.

These responses, Dr. Blendon said, show that a high number of households — particularly Black and Latino ones — will face substantial long-term financial effects from the pandemic.

"It's a very large number of people who can't pay the basics," Dr. Blendon said. "You have unbelievably vulnerable people over the next six months."

One in four women — and one in three mothers — are considering scaling back or dropping out of the work force, according to a new study that examined disruptions in the workplace caused by the pandemic.

Mothers are more likely to be thinking about taking drastic steps than fathers, and among those mothers who are thinking about downsizing or leaving, a majority cite child care responsibilities as a primary reason, according to the study, the sixth annual Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey and LeanIn.org.

Researchers at McKinsey and Lean In polled more than 40,000 North American workers for the survey, which is one of the most comprehensive studies of working men and women during the pandemic. The study comes at a time when many children have returned to school and parents are struggling to juggle work responsibilities while helping their adjust to online learning or a different and limited in-person school schedule.

The study also found that the pandemic has hit Black and Latina mothers particularly hard, with Latina mothers 1.6 times more likely than white mothers to be responsible for all child care and housework, and Black mothers twice as likely to be handling these obligations.

The report warned that corporate America is at a crossroads for gender parity. Over all, the study found that as many as two million women are considering taking a leave of absence or leaving the work force, the first year that the study has shown signs that women are leaving the labor force at higher rates than men.

"Without bold steps, we could erase all the progress we've made toward gender equality in the six years of this study," the report stated. "But if companies rise to the moment, we can lay the foundation for a more flexible and equitable workplace in the long term."

Credit...Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images

A panel of judges began hearing evidence Wednesday against Rupert Stadler, the former chief executive of Audi, a division of Volkswagen, as he became the first of dozens of former managers and engineers to face trial in Germany on charges they oversaw an enormous emissions cheating conspiracy.

For the first time, prosecutors offered a new motivation for why they contend Mr. Stadler, who was also a member of Volkswagen's management board, authorized the sale of diesel Audis with illegal emissions software even after U. S. authorities had exposed the fraud: He wanted to keep sales up so he could collect his bonus.

Mr. Stadler, 57, who ran Audi, Volkswagen's luxury car division, from 2007 to 2018, arrived at a Munich courtroom Wednesday morning with his lawyers, German media reported.

The evidence against Mr. Stadler and three other defendants will be heard by a panel of three professional judges and two lay judges, who are similar to jurors, in that they do not necessarily have formal legal training. All five members of the panel will vote on whether to convict Mr. Stadler when the trial concludes after proceedings that are expected to last two years. He has denied the charges.

No witnesses were scheduled to testify Wednesday. Prosecutors were expected to spend most of the day reading a 92-page indictment, which details how Audi engineers developed software beginning in the early 2000s that could detect when regulators were testing a car's emissions.

The software adjusted the emissions controls so that the car appeared to be compliant. Other times, the car polluted far more than allowed.

Initially, Audi wanted to spare customers the loud noise that diesel engines made while the emissions control system was warming up. Later, to avoid inconveniencing customers, Audi used the software to limit how often owners would have to refill a tank on the car with a fluid, known as AdBlue, that was necessary for the emissions system to work properly.

Engineers at Volkswagen, the parent company, adapted the illegal software in 2006 when they ran into problems developing a diesel engine that could meet U.S. pollution standards, which are stricter than in Europe.

Six months after the pandemic struck, The New York Times is interested in hearing how workplace dynamics have changed, with some people still doing their jobs remotely and others back at their desks. And we would like to hear from employers about their decisions on having employees return to the office.

Please share your experiences using the form below. You may hear from a Times reporter or editor interested in learning more about your story. We won't publish any part of your submission without contacting you first.

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Ben van Beurden, the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, said Wednesday that he was speeding up a reorganization of the company that will result in the loss of up to 9,000 jobs by the end of 2022.

In an interview published on Shell's website, Mr. van Beurden said the company needed to be reshaped to meet its targets of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. At the same time, Shell is under pressure to cut costs because of lower demand for oil and gas because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Europe's major oil companies, including Shell, Total and BP, are shifting under pressure from society and government to reduce emissions in order to tackle climate change.

Mr. van Beurden said the job cuts would help Shell shed up to $2.5 billion in operating costs. He said that 1,500 people had already left the company on voluntary redundancy packages this year. Shell has about 83,000 employees.

By 2050, Mr. van Beurden said, Shell's business lines would differ markedly from today. He said that Shell would still sell some oil and gas but that its products by midcentury would be "predominantly low-carbon electricity, low carbon biofuels," as well as hydrogen and other "solutions." The company is expected to present more details of its plans in February.

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More than 8,100 blazes have burned nearly four million acres across California this year. The Glass Fire that broke out this week near Napa, which is only 2 percent contained, is ravaging parts of the famous winemaking region in the middle of the harvest season, and the effects may linger long after it and other fires are extinguished.

Grapes untouched by flames can be tarnished by ash or smoke taint, and the extent of the damage is revealed only in the fermentation process. (Because red wines are fermented along with their skins, which bear the brunt of smoke taint, they are more affected than whites.) There is a testing backlog, so the extent of the taint is not yet known, Gladys Horiuchi of the lobbying group Wine Institute told the DealBook newsletter.

Most California wine grapes are sold in advance, so vineyards and wineries are negotiating to mitigate the impact of the fires, Ms. Horiuchi said. The goal is to avoid any smoke-tainted wine ever going on sale. That means, for now, drinkers are unaffected, sipping wines from prior harvests. But even if consumers don't notice any difference in flavor or pricing down the line, behind the scenes, supply chains and longstanding industry relationships are already coming under strain.

Some wineries are offering growers reduced payments to keep them in business but avoid potentially tainted grapes, while major buyers like Constellation Brands warn that contracts could be voided for elevated taint. And wineries previously concerned about oversupply because of the pandemic's effect on restaurant sales are looking to the bulk market to cover a potential shortfall.

The San Francisco Chronicle is keeping a running list of wineries and vineyards in Napa that have been hit by the Glass Fire, with extensive damage reported at Castello di Amorosa (although its famous castle survived), Chateau Boswell and LVMH-owned Newton Vineyard, among others.

Credit...Pool photo by Drew Angerer/EPA, via Shutterstock

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that he was giving stimulus talks "one more serious try" and that he would present House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a counteroffer later in the day that lays out the Trump administration's proposal.

"I think we're hopeful that we can get something done," Mr. Mnuchin said at a conference sponsored by CNBC.

The Treasury secretary said that the proposal would be similar to the one unveiled by the House Problem Solvers caucus this month and that it would be about $1.5 trillion.

Mr. Mnuchin said that it would include liability protections for schools and businesses, more economic impact payments, support for airlines and relief money for emergency workers in states.

"More fiscal response will help the economy," Mr. Mnuchin said.

Mr. Mnuchin indicated that it would be clear in the next day or two if a deal was possible. He said he did not anticipate a stand-alone bill to help the airline industry but said that he would be briefing airline executives on Wednesday afternoon on progress and had been encouraging them to hold off on planned layoffs.

The Treasury Department said Tuesday that it had completed loans for seven passenger airlines, drawing from the $25 billion set aside for the industry under the March stimulus law known as the CARES Act.

"The payroll support and loan programs created by the CARES Act have saved a large number of aviation industry jobs, and kept workers employed and connected to their health care, during an unprecedented time," Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement. "We are pleased to conclude loans that will support this critical industry while ensuring appropriate taxpayer compensation."

In exchange for the loans, the airlines are subject to requirements like limiting executive compensation, refraining from stock buybacks and issuing warrants or equity to the federal government. The recipients are Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, SkyWest Airlines and United Airlines.

American announced last week that it had completed a $5.5 billion loan from the Treasury, but expected that to rise to $7.5 billion after the agency reallocates funding set aside for other carriers, like Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines, that declined the loans. That amount, $7.5 billion, is the maximum any airline will receive, the Treasury said.

Credit...Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

For six months, Disney has kept tens of thousands of theme park workers on furlough with full health-care benefits in hopes that a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel would appear. On Tuesday, Disney conceded that none was coming.

The company said it would eliminate 28,000 theme park jobs in the United States, or about 25 percent of its domestic resort work force.

"As heartbreaking as it is to take this action, this is the only feasible option we have in light of the prolonged impact of Covid-19 on our business, including limited capacity due to physical distancing requirements and the continued uncertainty regarding the duration of the pandemic," Josh D'Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said in an email to "cast members," which is how Disney refers to theme park workers.

About 67 percent of the layoffs will involve part-time jobs that pay by the hour. However, executives and salaried workers will be among the laid off. Disney's theme parks in California and Florida employed roughly 110,000 before the pandemic. The job cuts, which will come from both resorts, will reduce that number to about 82,000.

Disneyland in California has remained closed because Governor Gavin Newsom has refused to allow theme parks in the state to restart operations. About 31,000 people work at the Disneyland complex and the majority are unionized and have been furloughed.

Mr. D'Amaro said in a statement that the layoffs were "exacerbated in California by the state's unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen."

Walt Disney World in Florida reopened on a limited basis in mid-July. But attendance has been weaker than Disney expected, with concern about coronavirus safety a major factor.

Disney will now begin negotiations with unions that represent the bulk of the affected employees. About 20,000 unionized Disney workers have been called back to work at Disney World. Roughly 20,000 more remain on furlough, a stoppage that began in mid-April. Disney World employed more than 70,000 workers before the pandemic.

The man who invented college spam - Fast Company

Posted: 01 Oct 2020 05:30 AM PDT

The glossy college brochure has become a rite of passage for many Americans. Parents groan as leaflits fill boxes in bedrooms and cover kitchen tables. Teenagers marvel at the attention from admissions departments in far-flung locales.

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Behind the scenes, of course, is a massive data-harvesting operation. A student's name is sold, on average, 18 times over her high school career—sales leads for a marketing funnel worth billions of dollars.

It was probably inevitable, in the age of Google and Salesforce, that colleges would find a way into our email boxes. But every innovation needs its Thomas Edison, the person who sees around the corner and speeds change up. For college marketing, that man was Bill Royall.

The moment that changed everything took place on a spring day in 1988, at a conference having nothing to do with colleges. Bill Royall's direct mail firm in Richmond, Virginia, didn't have any higher education clients back then; he worked with politicians and with nonprofit organizations that needed to raise money. He had come to Washington, D.C., to talk with people who ran New England summer camps.

The camps wanted to expand their geographic reach, and they invited Royall to the meeting to talk about how direct mail might help in attracting new families. While political campaigns were Royall's focus, he told the summer camp leaders that direct mail was increasingly an effective tool for selling all kinds of products. There was no difference, he said, between hawking a candidate for Congress and peddling a summer camp to parents.

But Royall's pitch that day fell flat. "They weren't interested, at all," he told me in an interview in 2019.

Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions by Jeffrey Selingo

After the speech, as Royall waited for the elevator at the Capital Hilton, a man approached him. He introduced himself as Robert Jones, the admissions director at Hampden-Sydney College, a private all-men's college in Virginia. He had heard Royall's speech and asked if he had ever managed mailings for colleges. "We didn't have any clients in higher education," Royall recalled telling him, "but there was no reason we couldn't."

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A few months later, Hampden-Sydney hired Royall & Company. When Bill Royall started digging into the college's marketing strategy, he was stunned not only by how the Virginia campus recruited students but also by what seemed to be common practices among many other schools, as well. Colleges purchased names of high schoolers much as they do today, but they were buying what Royall considered tiny quantities, limited to the names of juniors. Hampden-Sydney, for instance, bought only the names of students enrolled in private high schools. Most of all, Royall found that too many colleges waited for students to contact them instead of flooding the market with mailings to gin up interest.

The campus brochure, of course, existed long before Bill Royall signed up Hampton-Sydney as his first college customer. What Royall perfected was making the colorful college "viewbook," as it's known, as commonplace in the mailboxes of American teenage homes as an L.L.Bean catalog—and then ensuring the colleges he represented were on the top of the pile. Whether you call it junk mail, spam, or propaganda, generations of high school students and their parents have been inundated with images of manicured campuses and promises of supportive professors because Royall and those who followed his lead persuaded impressionable seventeen-year-olds that a college actually wanted them.

But what the schools really desired were students to apply in order to boost application numbers and make the colleges look popular to other teenagers, alumni, and the rankings. Sure, some applicants would get accepted, but the more who applied and the fewer who got in, the better for the school's reputation.

If you're a high school student or a parent of one, don't be easily enamored or swayed by all the mail colleges send to your home or your email box. Because while there is a science to why you're getting so much, the randomness of the strategy is more than just calculated—it's deeply cynical.

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College admissions is a big business. Colleges and universities spend an estimated $10 billion annually on recruiting students—mostly with old-fashioned direct mail and email, using tactics not much different than those of credit card companies and clothing retailers. Yet at its core, college admissions remains defined by rituals developed in the middle of the last century for a far smaller undergraduate population and for students who tended to stay closer to home than their modern counterparts. If you're a parent and marvel at how different your kid's college search is from your own, consider that it's based on a system designed primarily for their grandparents' generation.

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In the years around World War II, students typically applied to one school, and most colleges admitted anyone who graduated from high school. Colleges we refer to today as elite depended heavily on feeder high schools, usually boarding schools, where officials understood the academic standards and knew the student body. Until the 1950s, colleges didn't have an admissions office to speak of. There were no admissions deans. No viewbooks the size of catalogs mailed unsolicited to would-be students. No official campus tours. Instead, an administrator split his or her time between admissions and academic duties with the help of a clerical worker.

A student's name is sold, on average, 18 times over her high school career, and some names have been purchased more than 70 times—all at a cost of 45 cents a name.

By the 1960s, the modern admissions infrastructure started to take shape, the result of more high school students knocking on the doors of colleges. The number of undergraduates more than doubled in the decade baby boomers arrived on campuses, to 8 million by 1969.

With increased choices for students, public and private colleges began competing for them, shifting the admissions conversation from recruitment to selection. In 1959, the College Board published for the first time what had been previously a closely guarded secret: how many applications a school received and how many students it accepted. The term "selectivity" entered the lexicon of college admissions.

As high school students learned about acceptance rates, they began applying to multiple schools to play it safe. Multiple applications prompted unease within admissions offices, which until then had never developed models to predict which applicants would enroll—because usually everyone who accepted came.

But even as admissions officers complained about the rising application volume, they stoked the fire to keep fueling the numbers. They did so by going on more high school visits to woo counselors who they worried would start discouraging students from applying to colleges with declining acceptance rates.

Even so, one tactic remained largely unused by colleges until the 1970s: direct marketing.

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In general, colleges tended to wait for students to come to them. When Jack Maguire started as Boston College's admissions dean in the fall of 1971, he sat with his secretary to watch what she did when a prospective student called to request information about the school. "She took out an eight-and-a-half-by-eleven envelope, dictated the name and address on it from the phone, stuffed the envelope and put it in the out-basket," he recalled. "I said, 'Wait a minute, aren't you going to keep a record of that name?' and she said, 'No, if they're interested, they'll apply and then we'll have a record.' "

That same year, the College Board offered a new service to campuses that would, over the subsequent decades, revolutionize how millions of high schoolers searched for colleges. It was called the Student Search Service, and it sold the names and addresses of test takers—in other words, prospective students—to admissions offices. The service got off to a slow start. Colleges didn't think they needed to market to students.

But as the 1980s began, attitudes shifted. The last wave of the baby boom generation was leaving higher education. Demographics are destiny for colleges, and analysts projected that the number of U.S. students graduating from high school would shrink for much of the next decade and beyond. Schools needed to fill the classrooms and dorms they had built for the baby boomers, and marketing consultants such as Bill Royall were ready to help them do it.

When Royall got to work at Hampden-Sydney College, he took a page from the playbook he was already using to raise money for politicians and nonprofits.

College Board materials from the 1980s. [Photo: Jeffrey Selingo]
The first approach he suggested was to add a P.S. to the letter to prospective students. Hampden-Sydney's admissions director resisted the idea, worried it would look as if he hadn't thought through what he'd written. Royall finally persuaded him to try it out with an A/B test. The P.S. letter performed better; more students who received that letter ended up applying.

Other new ideas followed, each one validated with a randomized experiment. One-page letters instead of two. Sending to juniors in high school as well as seniors. Window envelopes to speed up the mailing process so envelopes didn't have to be matched with letters. An "offer" of free admissions tips if students returned the reply card.

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"Everyone was resistant to the offer," Royall told me. "It sounded cheesy, they said. It wouldn't generate good inquiries from students. We told them more inquiries could get them better inquiries."

Later, Royall convinced his clients to allow teenagers to mail those cards to a centralized facility run by his company to speed up the process even further and to better track responses. This was after Royall discovered some colleges stored inquiries from high school sophomores in a closet for up to a year before entering them in their databases because they couldn't keep up with the responses. Most colleges were accustomed to using small consulting firms headed by former academics to run their marketing campaigns, and some colleges even mailed their own materials. Speed often wasn't a priority until Royall came along.

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If you're a high school student deluged with mail from colleges on a daily basis, it's because the College Board has your name. Most people know the College Board as the owner of the SAT. Founded in 1900, the organization counts some six thousand colleges, high schools, and nonprofit groups among its members. While legally a nonprofit, it often feels and acts like a giant corporation. It collected one billion dollars in revenue in 2017, according to its federal tax forms, mostly in fees for the SAT and AP tests.

The idea of selling the names and addresses of test takers started with a noble intent—to increase access to college by putting information in the hands of students who historically didn't go. But as campuses competed aggressively for new undergraduates in the 1980s, peddling names turned into a moneymaker. By then, the College Board was selling 30 million names a year, at 14 cents a name and grossing $4 million.

In the 1990s, marketing consultants urged colleges to cast wider nets to find would-be applicants, upping the number of names purchased yet again. Then in the last decade, as email marketing and year-round outreach was introduced earlier in students' high school careers, the College Board expanded further, selling names as many times as it could.

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In 2006, the College Board sold 60 million names. By 2010, 80 million names were licensed, even though only 5.2 million students took the SAT and PSAT that year. Exactly how much name-selling has grown since is unclear. The College Board refuses to disclose how many names it now sells through "search," as the practice is commonly called in the world of admissions.

Here's what the College Board would tell me: search is bigger than ever. It sells names to nearly 2,000 colleges and scholarship organizations, up from 1,600 a decade ago. A student's name is sold, on average, 18 times over her high school career, and some names have been purchased more than 70 times—all at a cost now of 45 cents a name, each time it's requested among those test takers who opt in (students have the choice to participate). While the College Board was the first to sell names, they are far from the only one doing so these days. One survey of admissions officers found that they buy prospects from over a dozen sources, although the lists from the College Board remain the most popular, with the PSAT typically supplying freshman, sophomore, and junior names, and the SAT senior names.

Assorted college brochures. [Photo: Jeffrey Selingo]
In the pre-Internet days, the College Board released names twice a year; now it offers new names fifteen times during the year, turning the pursuit of students into a year-round effort. Years ago, the fall of junior year was early enough for most colleges to start their outreach. But for competitive reasons, schools now want to scope out students even sooner. As a result, schools have stepped up recruitment of high school sophomores. Today, 9 out of every 10 colleges purchase names of sophomores.

When colleges buy names, they can filter the purchase by a variety of factors. An admissions office, for example, might order the names of men with PSAT test scores above 1200 who live in Pennsylvania and want to major in the humanities. This again is where a college's agenda—and not the talent or accomplishments of students—drives the search buy. A college isn't looking to send mail only to straight-A students who scored a 1500 or higher on the SAT. Campuses have certain needs—more men, more minority students, more English majors, more students from five states away—priorities they attempt to fulfill by buying names fitting those criteria. The information used to compile the search order is gleaned from questionnaires students complete when they register for a test.

The search business has allowed the College Board to add millions to its bottom line each year without doing much more than pressing a button to send names to colleges and their marketing consultants. While the College Board governs the use of the names under licensing agreements with colleges, the group hasn't curtailed the endless stream of marketing to students—marketing that ultimately whips teenagers into a frenzy every year and warps the eventual value of the college search.

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In the late 1990s, Royall & Company had plenty of competitors. Twice a year, all the firms would all ramp up staff and wait for FedEx boxes to arrive from the College Board with nine-inch reel tapes embedded with names of test takers.

For Bill Royall, even FedEx wasn't fast enough anymore.

One summer afternoon in 1997, he sent a twin-engine Beechcraft Baron to New Jersey to intercept the tape delivery from a FedEx processing center near Newark airport. What was in those boxes was gold for the colleges that were Royall's clients. Every minute mattered. The sooner he pulled those tapes out of the boxes and got those personalized letters in the mail the sooner those students would know that these colleges wanted them to apply.

In New Jersey, two men—one the Beechcraft's pilot and the other a Royall executive—loaded 150 boxes into the back of their aircraft, the seats removed to make enough room. As the sun set, the prop-plane was cleared for takeoff on its return to Richmond. When it landed, Bill Royall met the aircraft and its precious cargo on the tarmac. The men transferred the boxes into a waiting truck and the group sped off on the thirty-minute drive to Royall's headquarters.

Despite the late hour, the office was full. Workers opened each box revealing the stacks of tapes, each with a slice of student names purchased by a specific client. Royall employees confirmed the names on each of the tapes and repacked them for a short trip to a mail-processing firm in nearby Lynchburg. There, workers fed the reels into a machine that spit out letters addressed to each of the students by their first name. The letters included other personal details—their intended major, interests in school—and the all-important tear-off reply card. If students returned the card, they would get some sort of gift, usually a list of admissions tips.

A few weeks later, Bill Royall's phone started to ring steadily with calls from clients, letting him know his strategy had succeeded—mountains of reply cards were arriving on their campuses every day. For several years, admissions consultants like Royall had pressed colleges to get mail out to prospective students ever faster. In an increasingly competitive market for students, speed was obviously more critical than ever before. From now on, Royall told his team, he wanted his schools to be first in the mailboxes of students—before they had a chance to fall in love with another college.

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* * *

Line up students in a high school who performed similarly on the PSAT or SAT and ask about the letters, postcards, or emails they've received from colleges and you'll immediately see how arbitrary the search business is.

If who gets mail and who doesn't seems so random, it's because it often is. A typical college's search request usually exceeds how much it can afford to buy. An admissions office might want all the students in Colorado who scored better than a 1300 on the SAT—a request that might generate 12,000 names when the school can afford only 5,000 of them. As a result, the college receives an arbitrary selection of 5,000 names fitting its criteria. This haphazard process for fulfilling orders is why two high school students living in the same town, attending the same high school with similar interests, grades, and test scores might receive mail from different colleges. So while this marketing feels personal to many students who have little experience being sold to, it's often no more personal than the Internet ads that chase us around the web trying to sell shoes.

No matter the medium, however, teenagers ignore the vast majority of marketing from colleges: only 11 percent elicits some sort of response (that's considered good by comparison to direct mail for consumer products where the response rate is even lower). The consensus among the high school students and parents I met is that colleges send way too much mail—and most of it ends up in the recycling bin or ignored in email boxes.

So why send so much?

Schools flood the market with mail for many different reasons. They want to make themselves look more selective to the outside world. They're uncertain about who is actually going to apply, so perhaps they want you to get a brochure but their interest has declined by the time your application is reviewed. What's more, selective colleges are always looking for that needle in a haystack—the talented student from a middle-of-nowhere high school that they hope will be among a stack of search names they buy. Most of all, colleges want students able to pay, so schools tend to overbuy names of test takers from wealthy zip codes.

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One mother texted me a picture of three milk crates of unopened mail she collected over the course of her daughter's junior and senior years. Another joked that she planned to wallpaper her son's room with the discarded mail when he left for college. A Reddit user tallied 2,374 marketing emails he received from more than 100 colleges—an average of 19 unsolicited emails from each school. Louisiana State University alone sent him 102 messages.

It seems some schools recruit you just so they can reject you. Why do they bother if we don't have a chance?"

While occasionally a letter, a brochure, or the offer of college swag might grab the attention of a teenager—Harvey Mudd in a recent year sent a deck of cards for a scavenger hunt—the mail students told me they most often opened was from schools already on their radar.

Nevertheless, it seems everyone can recall receiving that surprise letter or email from an Ivy League school or another name-brand college, even when their stats were below freshman averages for the campus. "I got an email from Princeton," a senior proudly told me when I visited her Maryland high school. The student with a 3.7 GPA and a 1350 SAT score showed me the message, which encouraged her to apply to take advantage of "the tremendous opportunities" Princeton offered to students like her. She sent her application because she thought she was being recruited. She was denied. "It seems some schools recruit you," she said later, "just so they can reject you. Why do they bother if we don't have a chance?"

The name-buying and resulting direct mail are both a cause and symptom of our national obsession with selective schools. Sure, selectivity was a measure of a college's brand well before the College Board ever sold a test taker's name, but the ease and frequency of direct mail changed the dynamics of student recruitment. It allowed colleges in every corner of the country to flood the mailboxes of high school students nationwide, enticing them with pretty pictures to new locales. Suddenly, a high school student in Massachusetts could know about a college in Minnesota or imagine herself walking across a campus in California.

The result was an uptick in applications to colleges, everywhere. Back in 1975, 60 percent of students applied to just one or two colleges. That was the norm. Now those students are in a distinct minority—only 18 percent do that. When I applied to college in the early 1990s, fewer than 1 in 10 students applied to at least seven colleges. Now that number, thanks to marketing and the growth of the Common Application, has exploded: some 1 in 3 students apply to seven or more places.

What's more, the number of students crossing borders to go to college has more than doubled in seven states since 2008 (Arizona, California, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Texas). Over the last half century, the concept of distance has changed in the minds of college-going students and their parents. Places that once felt far away now feel as if they are one town over, thanks to the Internet, the ease of interstate travel, and the proliferation of discount airlines. High-achieving students—rather than settling for their local institution—started to jump into applicant pools at schools with national brands.

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This re-sorting is largely why today's admissions process seems so intensely competitive and anxiety-ridden to parents who went to college in the 1980s. It's not that there are so many more top-notch students applying to college; it's that the top ones from Los Angeles and Chicago and Atlanta and Buffalo are now all applying to the same selective schools. And they're applying to way more of them.

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The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of thousands of SAT and ACT tests since the spring of 2020. While students and parents are worried about getting a test score to submit with their college application this fall, the College Board and ACT are concerned about their search business. After all, if tests aren't given, there are no names to sell.

Even before the virus, however, colleges were already looking for new ways of finding students beyond the traditional name buy and were beginning to employ the same digital strategies that Amazon, Zappos, Netflix, and other online retailers uses to offer you other things you might like based on your past selections.

From his office at the University of Toledo, William Pierce, an associate vice president, watches visitors arrive. But he's not looking out his window at campus. Instead, he's peering at a dashboard on his desktop computer. The feed is constantly scrolling with visitors to the university's website. They are tracked using their unique IP address.

The visitors arrive one after another, nearly every second. The first is Anonymous 5325015 from Toledo, Ohio. Another is Anonymous 9025345 from Sweet Home, Oregon. The third is a hit: David H. from La Porte, Indiana. He's visiting the freshman tuition web page.

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The day I'm watching, most visitors are anonymous. Pierce digs deeper on one of them, looking at the "engagement summary" that reveals this person—or at least this particular IP address—has visited the university's website eight times over the last month, looking at thirty-two pages. Each click is a digital breadcrumb that follows the user through the website, compiling every movement as he advances.

Every so often, a pop-up appears—a small box in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen or an image that covers most of the page. The goal is to collect some tidbit of information from this user. A name and email address are enough at first. Then perhaps another pop-up at another time will collect information on intended major or year in school. Once Pierce's system has a name, it's added to the university's customer relations management system, or CRM, which Toledo, like most colleges, uses to track prospective students and to serve them customized information. Sometimes the former anonymous user is already in the CRM system because the university had purchased the name and contact information through search. That's a precious commodity to people like Pierce because now he can customize what he sends to that prospective student based on his web behavior.

But that's not the only way Pierce uncovers his web visitors. Remember David H. from Indiana? He was revealed to the University of Toledo a different way. All those emails Toledo sends to would-be students from their name buys contain unique links. When David clicked on one, his data was connected to the back end of Pierce's system. Now the system could track the movements of students like David through the university's website and target them with personalized communications based on their interests.

Toledo's software is designed by Capture Higher Ed. More than fifty colleges and universities use the Louisville, Kentucky–based company's system, including the University of Kansas, the University of Tennessee, and Colby College. In a recent year, the company tracked 20 million unique web visitors on its clients' sites. Most of that traffic is what is called "organic," meaning it's prospective students searching colleges' websites without being contacted by the schools.

"Colleges have plenty of interested students, but they often don't know who they are," said Thom Golden, Capture's former vice president for data science. "This tool helps universities uncover those students." About 7 percent of users go on to complete interest forms that pop up on university websites served by Capture. Of those, 70 percent are organic visitors.

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In June, Bill Royall died. He was 74. When I visited him in Richmond, Virginia, a little more than a year earlier, we met in a mostly empty, stark-white office he still maintained in his former company's headquarters. In December 2014, the Advisory Board Company, which had made billions consulting in the health-care industry, bought Royall & Company for $850 million. The colossal purchase price sent shock waves through college admissions offices everywhere even though they had helped feed the beast. After all, most college endowments aren't that large. In 2017, Royall & Company was sold again as part of a larger deal to a private equity firm.

Royall seemed riveted by his own story when he described it to me. I asked him how he felt about the ways the college search had turned into a seemingly never-ending process fueled by millions of pieces of mail and billions of dollars. He had no regrets for his role in creating the admissions monster. "Look, we've been able to contribute to access and opportunity and inclusion," he said. "We know of thousands of kids who go to college every year who wouldn't because they got recruited through us. When I look back on my legacy, to me that's the greatest contribution that our company made."

The business of marketing colleges made Bill Royall a very rich man. As I waited for him and his wife, Pam, whom he met at work, I flipped through a book in the reception area that profiled "the art of Royall & Company." Sculptures, paintings, and photographs hang everywhere around the three buildings that make up the office complex in Richmond, all collected by the Royalls over the years. In the preface to the book, the company's art director remarked that our perspective on art "changes as we learn more about its context." Quoting from John Steinbeck, he wrote "we like what we know." The same could be said for Royall's approach to selling colleges. He tried to widen the perspective of students, so that they might like more than what they knew.

Above all, Bill Royall made himself wealthy by realizing that all those teenagers (and their parents) were customers. When people told him not to send "window envelopes" because families might think it was a utility bill, he knew they were wrong. Teenagers had never received a bill in their life. They were thrilled to be sold to. For the first time, someone was reaching out directly to them, sending them mail, talking about changing their lives. That type of marketing altered the way parents and their children thought about going to college.

For many Americans, being a high school student now means swimming in a constant stream of messages about colleges, debating options all over the country, wading through stacks of mail, and getting tracked while you visit college websites. In the end, Royall didn't just expand the horizons for students—he expanded our collective anxiety.


Excerpted from WHO GETS IN AND WHY by Jeffrey Selingo. Copyright © 2020 by Jeffrey Selingo. Reprinted with permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Bill Royall died in July. He passed away in June.

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