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US: agents’ role surveyed by NACAC

Research by NACAC into strategies for recruiting first-time international students has revealed that commission-based agents play an important role at a significant number of US institutions. But despite the benefits of partnering with agents, some “inherent risks” were also noted.

For students, risks noted include financial and misinformation risk, and the risk of being referred to an institution that is not educationally and socially best for them. Photo: Unsplash

About 36% of those surveyed reported using commission-based agents

According to the research brief, website and email are the most important student recruitment strategies used across all institutions surveyed, but over a third (36%) reported using commission-based agents and another 27% were actively considering the practice.

“One of the biggest concerns… is the lack of transparency around the practice”

Among survey respondents that used agents, 39% rated them as ‘considerably important’ to the recruitment of international students, and an additional 36% found them to be ‘moderately important’.

Institutions were also asked about the various policies and practices used to define their relationship with agents and to support them in representing the institution.

Nearly all (94.2%) institutions said they require agents to enter into a formal contract, and three-quarters (78.8%) said they assess the students who are recruited by agents.

However, just over a quarter (28%) of institutions reported listing agency partners on student-facing websites – an “alarming” low percentage according to NACAC.

“One of the biggest concerns with commission-based recruitment is the lack of transparency around the practice,” the authors noted.

“Namely, that students and families are unaware of the financial relationship between agents and the institutions for which they recruit, as well as the potential influence this can have on the guidance they receive.”

Larger institutions were both more likely to require recommendations and to assess recruited students, the survey found.

In particular, over the last two years, more colleges have adopted practices that provide greater oversight of commission-based agents.

“Commissioned agents allow institutions to establish a local presence in strategic regions abroad, and to meet growing enrolment targets, oftentimes with limited budgets,” it read.

“From a student perspective, commissioned agents may be the main source of guidance for many families in countries that lack a significant presence of school-based college counsellors, independent educational consultants, and college fairs.”

However, NACAC said it maintains a “healthy concern” with this strategy.

Despite the benefits, there are inherent risks,” it noted.

“For students who interact with agents these [risks] include financial risk, misinformation risk, and the risk of being referred to an institution based not upon what is educationally and socially best for them, but, rather, what is financially advantageous for the agent.”

“It is critical that institutions strategically develop and effectively implement operational protocols”

Meanwhile, risks to institutions were said to include financial, legal, and reputational risk.

“To protect all stakeholders, it is critical that institutions strategically develop and effectively implement operational protocols and institutional policies in line with best practice,” the report continued.

“International students bring great cultural and economic benefits to US high schools and colleges,” said NACAC CEO Joyce Smith.

“We are intent on understanding the market for recruiting international students and advising our members about best practices to safeguard the interests of their students as well as their institutions.”

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