Feb 8, 2010

Does the National Merit® Scholarship Corporation Have Something to Hide?

The conversation began, “My name is Eileen Artemakis, from the National Merit® Scholarship Corporation, and I have been asked to get the name of your attorney.”

There were no preliminaries or explanations. Ms. Artemakis, NMSC public information director, was employing a not-so-subtle tactic to frighten me out of crossing her bosses at the Corporation who were not pleased by my columns on the scholarship competition. A letter from legal counsel followed a week later.

What did I do to merit threats of legal action? I posted qualifying scores for each of the states and the District of Columbia. According to NMSC lawyers, the Corporation considers this information “proprietary.” But nothing on their website warns of confidentiality and the data is freely shared on the internet. Even the kids on College Confidential have the cutoffs about right every year.

Evidently, the public is not supposed to know or see the numbers laid out in their totality. Why? Possibly because the cutoff scores really don’t look too fair when compared across states, and the Corporation is determined to tamp down uprisings before they become revolutions.

The National Merit® Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) is well-known for sensitivity to criticism. Just ask the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) or FairTest, both of which suggested that the NMSC make adjustments in the way it distributes millions of scholarship dollars each year.

And I’m not the only blogger to receive a similar call from the NMSC. NMSC uses a search tool on a daily basis to review websites (sort of like the Chinese government) and the order to contact me came directly from the Corporation’s CEO, Timothy McGuire, who had reviewed my columns.

Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article (subscription may be required) on my predicament and FairTest released the complete list of qualifying scores for the 2010 competition on its website. It would make much more sense for the Corporation to post this information for public review and walk away from the controversy.

If you run a good program, use a fair methodology and are proud of the outcome, you should have nothing to hide or fear from a little criticism now and again.


  1. Wow! I guess I will soon receive a call for posting the scores. I even verified the previous year scores with College Planning Simplified. I did put in my blog a slight caveat that said, "According to a primary source at the NMSC, the cutoff scores have not been determined yet by the National Merit Scholarship office." However, they are pretty accurate as far as I am concerned. There is not anything confidential about these figures as far as I know.

  2. I hope you stand up to the bullies at NMSC.

  3. Nancy, NMSC bad behavior is going viral. Up on my FB page and I'm sharing it with every parent I know. I am a subscriber to the Chronicle. Thank you for your good work. NMSC should be smarter than this.

  4. Your reference to the Chinese government was ironic... this blogspot is blocked here in Beijing and I had to use a VPN to circumvent the censors to read it!!

  5. Nancy -- Can you double check the MN PSAT cut-off? I thought it was 214 last year. thanks for posting info either way...

  6. The information on the Fair Test website has been pretty thoroughly checked. As you can appreciate, it's difficult to be 100% certain without having access to "the guide" containing the official list.

    It's my understanding that if you're calling from a particular state, the NMSC will give you the cutoff for that state and no other. You could give it a try.

    In the meantime, here's a hint: the number you cite may be for the high school class of 2009. It's possible that the class of 2010 went up by a point.

    BTW, many thanks for all the support and wonderful comments above. I am humbled and deeply appreciative.

    Wow! China!

  7. I read the Chronicle of Higher Education article in the Feb 19 issue, and was very disgusted by the high-handed ugly veiled threats delivered by the hired guns for the NMSC. I will now be a regular reader of this previously unknown-to-me blog, in defense of your freedom of speech!

    JK Portland, Oregon