Who remembers their Adam Smith?

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Keeping that quote in mind, now consider this “news” item — or rather puff piece — from Inside Higher Ed.

Six leading liberal arts colleges are collaborating — for students, parents and counselors — because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The colleges — Amherst, Bowdoin, Carleton, Pomona, Swarthmore and Williams Colleges — will not be collaborating on admissions decisions or on financial aid.

Who among us is so cynical to imagine that they would? Recall the Overlap scandal of a generation (or two!) ago.

They are offering joint programs on the coronavirus, explaining the faculties, undergraduate research, financial aid, campus life and applying to college during the pandemic.

The colleges involved are all highly competitive, and are all expensive but are generous with financial aid. They are spread from Maine to Southern California.

E. Whitney Soule, senior vice president and dean of admissions and student aid at Bowdoin, said via email that despite the geographic reach of the colleges, “our six institutions have a lot in common related to size, liberal arts, resources, financial aid policies, and approach to the student experience.”

Of course they do! When ADM engages in price fixing and other anti-competitive behavior, they don’t coordinate with Boeing. They work with companies with which they have “a lot in common.”

She added that “we assume that a student looking at one of our schools may benefit from being introduced to all of our schools. The purpose of providing a one-stop sign-up for our mailing lists and hearing from all six schools on topics that are of interest to many students, families and counselors, we hope makes it easier to get to know residential liberal arts colleges as well as our schools specifically.”

Whoa! It would be one thing if the schools got together and split the cost of some CV-19 videos. At first, that was what I thought this was — stupid but harmless. Yet that was my mistake. The people who run Williams are not stupid. They do things for reasons. Mailing lists — like any list of potential customers — are valuable. Does the Justice Department allow Walmart and CostCo to share mailing lists?

Soule said, “Our messaging about liberal arts, affordability, faculty engagement, applying during the pandemic is not exclusive to the six of us, but we’ve started with this smaller group as a way to test out this approach and the logistics involved in coordinating among multiple schools.”

If only all the elite liberal arts colleges could be “coordinating” on various things . . . Think of the possibilities!

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