December 17, 2017

Webster University ends relationship with military-focused media organization under FTC investigation

Webster University has ended its relationship with a company under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission after the company asked the school to pay for its placement in military rankings.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced a proposed settlement with Victory Media because of the perceived accuracy and legitimacy of their military-friendly rankings due to a reported “pay for play” system.

Patrick Giblin, director of public relations at Webster University, said Webster never participates in pay-to-play rankings.

“Webster University’s records indicate that the University has not had any business dealings with Victory Media since it placed an advertisement in ‘G.I. Jobs’ magazine in the 2013-2014 fiscal year,” Giblin said. “The advertisement only ran in three print editions of the magazine and also included an online version of the ad. The last time Victory Media ranked Webster University was in 2014.”

Giblin said a representative of the company Victory Media  reached out to Webster’s marketing department  in 2015  and said Webster University’s profile on their website would be deleted if the University did not pay an annual fee. Webster rejected the proposition per university policy.

Giblin confirmed Webster’s listing on G.I. Jobs’ website is no longer linked to the university’s homepage after 2014.

In the settlement, Victory Media is listed as doing business under the names of its affiliates G.I. Jobs and Military Friendly. Webster ranked fourth best on Military Friendly’s list of “military friendly” schools.

A 2016 report by Veteran Education Success (VES) found that Victory Media implemented a “pay for play” system where schools could pay for higher rankings on their military-friendly lists.

The FTC settlement specified Victory Media’s affiliate G.I. Jobs used a “School Matchmaker” to help servicemembers find schools that offer programs they look to study after their time in the military.

According to the FTC, the “School Matchmaker” search tool only searched schools that paid to be included.

“Several schools not designated by [Victory Media] as ‘‘military friendly’’ are included in the Matchmaker search results,” The FTC Federal Register Notice said. “The proposed complaint alleges that [Victory Media’s] misrepresentations regarding the scope of the Matchmaker search tool constitute a deceptive act or practice under Section 5 of the FTC Act.”

The complaint also alleges in certain articles, emails and social media posts Victory Media misrepresented its endorsements as independent and not paid advertising.

Webster University has been connected to several Victory Media affiliates. In a February 8, 2016 press release, Webster reported being previously named as a “Best for Vets” university by G.I. Jobs, along with several other military outlets.

In 2013, Webster was listed as one of Military Spouse Magazine’s satisfied advertisers. The magazine is also connected to Victory Media.

As of Nov 7, 2017, under the ‘Why Choose Webster?’ tab found in the Webster Military Education link of webster.edu, the university advertised for the Military Friendly’s Gold Top-10 ranking.

Giblin said Webster’s continued ranking has no influence from the university and was an independent decision from the publication.

“Working through all of our records, we thoroughly checked and the university has exchanged no funds with Victory Media since the 2013-2014 academic year,” Giblin said. “If Victory Media chose to continue to list us on their Military Friendly website, that was an editorial decision that they made independent of any actions by the University.”

VES employee Carrie Wofford said in an email their case study included Military Friendly in the “pay for play” system.

The university took Military Friendly’s ranking off their website after The Journal’s inquiry.

According to the VES report, Victory Media promoted a “Gold Top 10” “pay for play” system where schools could pay for top-10 rankings. Webster received their Military Friendly Gold Top-10 school in 2017.

Webster University was ranked thirty-eighth in the Military Times’ “Best for Vets: Business Schools.” Military Times is not affiliated with Victory Media.

“The University is frequently cited for its high quality of education by a number of publications that rank services and programs for current and former members of the military,” Giblin said. “Just in the past year, the University was ranked by U.S. News & World Report and by Military Times magazine as being an institution that is ‘Best for Vets. Per policy, the University did not pay any company to be named on those lists.”

Victory Media is a private, for-profit organization that focuses on members of the military and their families to help service members find a military-friendly education.

Victory Media did not respond to The Journal’s email seeking information.

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