Aspen Marketing -- Quid pro Quo -- Power of Referrals
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Before we criticize Aspen/ CRC Health Group for this we need to acknowledge that we are addressing a gray area where there is little in the way of defined standards. We don’t like what Aspen does. However we are not claiming that they are clearly breaking any generally accepted “rules.” Most schools and programs sometimes refer to other programs and to referring professionals. 

The problem is that if fee based referral sources like educational consultants get business from people referred to them by Aspen or any school or program, the temptation is strong for that educational consultant to favor that company or school or program making referrals. 

It is an all too common marketing practice to use the ability to make such referrals as an incentive to refer back.  Referrals of this kind have been solidly criticized by some, but have not been directly addressed either by NATSAP or IECA.  Both condemn referrals in exchange for an item of value,  and a referral of paying business is an item of value, but it hard to prove that there is actually an "exchange" even when each is referring to the other.  IECA does address referral agreements as inappropriate for member consultants.  

We doubt that Aspen has any formal referral agreements with consultants.  If Aspen simply continuously rewards educational consultants who refer to them, without a formal “agreement” in place, this appears to be against the spirit of the rule, but ambiguous as to whether or not there is a violation of NATSAP’s regulations impacting the programs or at IECA impacting the educational consultants.  If there is a specific violation, it would appear to be hard to prove.    

Some critics condemn all referrals to a service that has potential to return the referral, presuming that all such referrals are corrupt.  We disagree with that because that standard would sometimes preclude referral to the best provider of service, although we agree with those critics that making and accepting such referrals creates both a strong temptation to establish a quid pro quo and an appearance of conflict of interest.  We agree with the critics that engaging in cross referral is ethically a very slippery slope that is very often abused.    

Aspen is certainly not the only (and probably not the most concerning provider) so far as this issue is concerned, but we are talking about Aspen here.  Remember, they say they are “the leader in …” Is a  pattern of referring specifically to those educational consultants who refer to Aspen programs,  leadership to be proud of?

It is difficult pin things down firmly.  FamilyLight sm does its best to avoid influence from this sort of thing.  We do accept some referrals from schools and programs.  Schools and programs may refer an educational consultant when they get an inquiry from a parent who is not appropriate to them and when someone is ready to move on to another venue.

We think most programs can easily discern from our behavior that we do not consider who refers to us when we decide to whom we will refer.     Therefore we do not get many referrals from schools and programs, although we do get a few.  However, Aspen is aware that we operate a competent service, and are one of the most flexible about going to clients where there are no consultants located nearby.   We think if Aspen or a number of other programs based their pattern of referring to educational consultants on competence and access, we would get more, especially in remote locations where there is not a consultant based nearby. 

Sometimes Aspen will simply do the job themselves and refer to another Aspen program including one that simply is not equipped to do the job.  See the section addressing that situation.

Next Text on Aspen Marketing in Sequence -- Information for Referrals?  

Navigating the Aspen Marketing article

1.  Exploiting publicity about abuses in the field, attempting to project the image that Aspen Education is uniquely immune to these problems.  

Too often we hear of clinicians advising parents that sending their child to a therapeutic program away from home is only a good idea if it is an Aspen program.  Clinicians and other referring professionals who give that advice are likely falling victim to  .   .   .   (more)

2.  Web Advertising.  A further example of where we would like to see improvement at Aspen/ CRC Health Group involves their web advertising.  We saw temporary improvement about the time we previously called public attention to this, but it appears the problem is back, or maybe it never left and we just missed it.    (more)

          2a. Documentation

3. Quid pro quo marketing.  Quid pro quo marketing is providing some incentive, often an item of value in exchange for business.  It is not like the “cents off” coupon from your neighborhood grocery store; it is more like means of attracting referrals from supposedly neutral referral sources by providing some incentive to bias in the favor of the facility marketed.  We are not accusing Aspen or CRC Health Group of actual payoffs or referral fees to educational consultants.  We will let you decide whether or not what we describe crosses any troubling lines.  (more) 

              3a. Exorbitant perks

              3b. Special Events

           3c. External Referral

           3d. Information for Referral (Red Link)

4. Misuse of outcome studies.

Aspen, to its great credit, commissioned an extensive outcome study blanketing its schools, excluding its wilderness programs. The problem arises when the study is used to convince others of the effectiveness of one school or treatment center, ignoring the fact that the results of many schools have been lumped together.   (more)

5.  Referral from one Aspen program to another.

When a person is referred to an Aspen school or program, upon completion of that stay Aspen generally refers back to the referral source, a common practice in their business.  When a person arrives at an Aspen program  .  .  .  (more)

Additional Links:

Return to main article on Aspen Education

Blog entry on closure of Mt. Bachelor Academy

Official web site of Aspen Education

Official web site of CRC Health Group

Official web site of Bain Capital

Return to Major Providers Index

Return to Individual Schools and Programs Index

Woodbury Reports links to Aspen Education

Feedback is invited. We will publish selected feedback.  Email

Disclaimer: No  program review, no matter how positive, is a blanket endorsement. No criticism is a blanket condemnation.  When we express our level of confidence in a school or program, that is our subjective opinion with which others might reasonably disagree.  When we assert something as fact, we have done our best to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that all of our information is accurate and up to date. When we address compliance with our guidelines, you need to remember that these are only OUR guidelines -- not guidelines from an official source.  We have also set the bar very high, and do not expect any school or program to be in total compliance.  It is not appropriate to draw a conclusion of impropriety (or even failure to live up to conventional wisdom) from our lack of confidence in a school or program or from less than perfect conformity to our guidelines.  Some will say we expect too much. Readers are responsible for verifying accuracy of information supplied here prior to acting upon it. We are not responsible for inaccuracies.

Last revised April 9, 2010

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