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Data quality mishap leads to University of Virginia email fiasco

Paul Newman Archive

Trouble with data quality is an area of concern for professionals in every industry, but it presents an especially pressing need in education. If schools are saddled with incorrect contact data for their students, they risk sending them mistaken information about their class schedules and putting their academic status in jeopardy.

A recent example of this phenomenon occurred at the University of Virginia, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. An email sent by U.Va.'s McIntire School of Commerce was intended for applicants to a new online academic program, but because of a faulty database of email addresses, it was sent by a third-party vendor to a list of people with no connection to the program.

The email was supposed to inform about 85 candidates for a business certification program that their applications had been received. But the vendor, Dallas-based Academic Partnerships, mistakenly sent the email to a group of people that had been targeted by a completely separate marketing campaign.

Jaquelyn Scharnick, a spokeswoman for the email vendor, said her company was sorry about the mistake.

"We have been working aggressively to communicate with everyone who received the email," Scharnick told the Times-Dispatch. "The feedback that we have received suggests that the situation was an isolated one."

It may have been isolated for Academic Partnerships, but for U.Va., this appears to be a recurring problem. The mistaken email was the second such blunder in three months - over the summer, a third-party vendor for a school health insurer mistakenly printed over 18,700 students' Social Security numbers in brochures that were sent around the country.

This mistake was a smaller one in comparison, but that's no comfort to the recipients of the academic email, who were left confused and suspicious after the incident went down. Michael Lemma, a music teacher in Bergen County, N.J., has no connection with U.Va., so he was baffled as to how the university obtained his contact information and emailed him.

"Who would have my email when I have never, ever had any contact with the university?" Lemma said, according to the Times-Dispatch.

Error-prone databases of people's contact information are always a potential problem. This is why it's pivotal to have data quality tools and processes in place. Those that utilize email verification software eliminate mistakes and avoid fiascos.