In a press release last August, Blackboard and Education Funding Partners (EFP) announced the launch of a “sustainable, new revenue stream” model for districts and schools at no direct cost for the institutions.
The catch: Digital advertisements will be shown to students and the community on institutions websites running on Blackboard Web Community Manager, a solution for external communications and branding. Parents of current and prospective students, as well as teachers, are seemingly the main targets of the advertisements.
EFP is an advertising network focused on district and school websites and social media presence as channels. EFP’s adNet mirrors the functionality of broader digital advertising networks, but insists on the safety of “carefully screened” ads from “education-friendly” brands, as well as a high level of control on the part of the institution. While it suggests “unrestricted revenue,” no idea, however preliminary, on how much income a school or district is looking at from adNet, is available on the site. It is safe to assume income would be proportional to site traffic. EFP also offers “district-specific custom advertising sponsorship programs using a wide variety of district assets,” where extracurricular programs for students, including “Back-to-School, Health & Wellness, STEM and Arts & Music” are sponsored by corporations.
Companies advertising on EFP adNet in 2017 include Walmart, Microsoft, CVS, and Target. Administrators are promised veto power on the brands that advertise on their sites. See a full list of EFP adNet brands here.
While advertising in schools has been an actively debated topic since at least the beginning of the decade, lingering questions remain about its effects, both negative and positive. A working paper by the Data & Society Research Institute points out a myriad of issues in which student privacy and limited regulation by lawmakers with slowly-evolving understanding of the matters are among the most critical. In Moodle, their own MoodleCloud SaaS solution serves ads to students on its free tier.
EFP is a “Certified B Corporation” from B Lab, which signals EFP as a for-profit company that meets “rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.”