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NACAC amends code of ethics to improve transparency in agent use

The National Association for College Admission Counseling has once again amended its influential Statement of Principles of Good Practice to provide more guidance on the use of third party education agents. Education institutions in the US that use agents to recruit international students should be more transparent about the partners they work with, according to NACAC’s updated statement.

NACAC voted to approve guidance encouraging more transparency in the use of education agents to recruit international studentsNACAC’s members voted overwhelmingly in favour of the latest amendments to the SPGP at the association's national conference over the weekend. Photo: Chuck Fazio Photography.

"We feel some responsibility for the uptick in agent use, since it's occurred after we voted to permit the activity among our member institutions"

On Saturday, September 24, NACAC added two amendments instructing institutions to ensure agents they work with tell students which institutions are compensating them.

“International students are often unaware that the agencies who are advising them are doing so on a per-capita commissions basis”

And in their own promotional materials targeting international students, institutions should “offer to verify whether they have authorised any third party agents to represent them and indicate how students may request this verification”.

NACAC’s members voted overwhelmingly in favour of the latest amendments to the SPGP at the association’s annual national conference in Columbus, Ohio, with a majority of 194 to 8.

The update is “rooted in a desire to see more light shining on a practice that’s too often shrouded in secrecy”, Eddie West, director of international initiatives at NACAC, told The PIE News.

The amendments were tabled in response to a request by NACAC’s affiliate, International ACAC, to “do more to promote transparency, accountability and integrity among international student recruitment practitioners”, he said.

International ACAC had particular concerns over ‘double dipping’ – when agents pocket a fee from both the student and the institution.

“International students and their families are often unaware that the agencies who are advising them are doing so on a per-capita commissions basis,” West added. “Instead, they mistakenly assume they’re receiving unbiased, objective advice.”

“We believe working with agents is inherently risky – risky to institutions and to students alike”

Agent use for international recruitment in the US is lower than in other study destinations, such as Australia and the UK.

However, in recent years, more colleges have begun to work with overseas agents, particularly after NACAC amended its SPGP in 2013 to permit their use. Until then, the organisation had been publicly against working with agents and there was heated debate over whether it should endorse the practice.

“If members choose to use incentive-based agents when working with international students outside the US, they will ensure accountability, transparency, and integrity,” the SPGP states.

Over the last three years, NACAC has stepped up its work to encourage best practice in international student recruitment, particularly when it comes to agents.

In 2014, the organisation published a guide on how to work with agents.

“We believe [working with agents] is inherently risky – risky to institutions and to students alike, though in different ways,” West said. “Without direct and vigorous regulation by the US government, we feel we have an important role to play in promoting more transparency and quality assurance.

“That’s especially true since we feel some responsibility for the uptick in the practice, since it’s occurred after we voted to permit the activity among our member institutions a few years ago.”

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