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To CERR With Love

Choosing a college is hard enough, as one must balance forces like curriculum, location and finance in order to make the right choice - and these decisions are entrusted to people not even out of their teens. So a veteran educational consultant has established an online outpost to help prospective students find (and pay for) a quality secondary education.

After a long career advising colleges about enrollment issues, Tedd Kelly started the Consultants for Educational Resources and Research. It began as a matchmaking service. Students would log on and fill in their preferences, with those preferences then matched to what colleges have to offer. The matched students and the colleges then negotiate an acceptable tuition.

The service was free to the students, while the colleges were required to pay a $2,000 yearly fee.

When the service began, the press seized upon the money angle, with headlines like "Let the bidding begin for your college education." This led some to call the service immoral or even illegal, but Kelly reports that he has silenced the critics. "When you read the fine print, you see there is nothing wrong in what we are doing," he said. Now that this is straightened out he expects that more colleges will choose to participate.

The service, in fact, lacks breadth. So far, only 10 colleges have signed up which rather limits student choices. Still, applicants are bound to find some new options.

Kelly said the college admission cycle follows a pattern. September to December is the travel season, where kids visit schools and schools put their own representatives on the road. Many application deadlines close in January, with decisions made up until around April. Usually, finances are addressed after acceptance, a pattern Kelly is attempting to break. By saying up front exactly what the student can afford, the college can suggest a compromise - or not. This is done to cover what is commonly called "the gap:" The difference between what students want and what they can afford.

"Colleges compete for students," Kelly said. "And students will apply for a school, not knowing whether they can actually afford it. But parents have learned to go back and forth, to negotiate with schools for a level of financial aid." For that reason, he adds, prospective students should never accept the first offer.

The company is completely self-financed, with Kelly and his associate contributing the startup fees. It consists solely of himself and an Internet consultant. This year, as he solicits more colleges to partake in the service, he is also positioning the company for acquisition or an injection of funding.

The few colleges who have signed on are happy with the service.

"We have gotten into conversations with about 50 students with whom we would not have connected without this," said Barbara Hinkle, vice president of enrollment services at Seaton Hill College in Greensburg, Penn. "We are not well known outside of our area, so it has helped us. It's also a good idea to get the financial discussions out of the way. If we know how much they have to spend we can work with them to get the grants, loans, and scholarships needed to complete their education."

In a Nutshell:

Company Name: Consultants for Educational Resources and Research
Address: 1306 Seaton Lane, Falls Church, Va. 22046
Phone: (703) 536-7871
Fax: (703) 536-1663
Contact e-mail address: tkelly@cerr.com
Web addresses: http://www.cerr.com, http://www.ecollegebid.org
Total Funding: $5,000
Investors: Bootstrap

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