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US sector calls out government on third-party guidance

US international education stakeholders are pressing the government to rescind to a recent statement on the use of third-party providers.

Sector stakeholders are concern the guidance will have a wide range of unintended consequences. Photo: pexels

Agents that have recruited students for fall 2023 could lose the ability to receive compensation/ commission, which has the potential to cause a breach of contract

The Dear Colleague Letter – released in February – should be withdrawn, stakeholders say, as it would have “unintended but serious consequences” for international recruiting, as well as study abroad programming.

Stakeholders are concerned the wide-ranging guidance will effectively ban overseas international education agents and recruitment partners, stop transnational education agreements and halt partners offering study abroad provisions.

Some 1,100 individuals and organisations have responded to a call for public comment.

NASFA says the guidance “exceeds current law and regulations” and should be withdrawn as it “will end nearly all current study abroad programming” and damage the US’s ability to attract top international talent.

In a letter to US education minister, Miguel Cardona, NAFSA’s CEO and executive director Fanta Aw said the guidance has “created great uncertainty within the U.S. higher education community as it works to build back from the devastating losses to international education during the Covid-19 crisis”.

According to Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, the DCL would lead to “the termination of many study abroad programs, academic and instructional partnerships with foreign universities, the ability of certain foreign universities to enrol American students receiving Title IV aid, and the ability of domestic institutions to enrol international students to study in the United States using foreign-based recruiters”.

The guidance – planned to come into effect on September 1 – redefines third-party service providers, which will “debilitate international education”, impede global mobility and end agreements and partnerships that have been formed to “enrich U.S. institutions through identifying international students who will bring unique, global perspectives to campus communities”, NAFSA said.

ACE warned that the redefinition could impact nonprofit organisations and foundations assisting low-income, first-gen student recruitment, retention and academic counselling,  providers of clinical experiences for healthcare students, mental health providers, edtech publishers and high school agencies participating in dual or concurrent enrolment programs.

The guidance will also have huge impacts for online management providers, with 2U already filing legal action against the Department of Education.

Study Abroad

Most education and study abroad programs and exchanges would be prohibited by the guidance, except for those constructed and taught by faculty hired by US institutions, NAFSA continued.

Rochester Institute of Technology said its 500+ students projected to participate in study abroad annually would be impacted, while Chris Harrington, associate vice president for Federal Governmental Relations at University of California System, noted that guidance would undo “decades of work in creating study abroad opportunities that are accessible to all students” in the institution’s submission.

It could also lead to the closure of US international branch campuses and the disruption of dual degree programs and transfer articulation agreements with foreign higher education institutions.

The University of Melbourne in Australia said many of its students travel to the country with the support of US financial aid.

“Not integrating local experts to design the curriculum is not allowing students to learn from the true experts”

Melbourne currently has 24 exchange partnerships with US institutions, with study abroad and exchange programs contributing to more than 80% of the overall enrolments from US students, it said. Since 2011, Melbourne has welcomed more than 4,000 study abroad and exchange students.

The institution is concerned the guidance will have unintended consequences for US students hoping to undertake a study abroad program in Australia, in addition to reciprocal exchanges with our long-standing and valued US partner institutions.

By not allowing contracts with foreign entities in study abroad, the DCL “flies in the face” of the 2021 Joint Statement, NAFSA continued. At the time US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the sector the Biden-Harris administration could be relied on to do everything it can “to make your work easier”.

“The DCL would prevent tens of thousands of students who receive need-based aid from benefitting from the life changing experience of studying abroad,” NAFSA said.

The Association of International Education Administrators added that removing access to federal financial aid that American students gain via Title IV funds will “only further expand socioeconomic void in access to high impact learning practices”.

In-person internship programs offered in partnership with a placement agency could also be impacted, while virtual student exchange could also be hit.

The AIEA said the guidance “negates using the people and institutions that are experts in the culture, knowledge and other content taught on study abroad programs”, calling on the guidance to be rescinded.

“Not integrating local experts to design the curriculum is not allowing students to learn from the true experts,” AIEA leaders wrote to Secretary Cardona.

International student recruitment impact

Stakeholders are also concerned that barring the ability to work with recruiters overseas will damage US institutions in the global competition to attract and retain international students.

Comments highlight that the guidance contradicts with previous Department of State endorsements of education agencies.

With contracts with third-party local agents, and a clear policy on ethical recruitment, Western Michigan University’s international student recruitment efforts would be “significantly” disrupted, Paulo Zagalo-Melo, associate provost of Global Education at WMU said.

Helios Ernesto Galindo Galvez from Destino Education warned the guidance would forbid companies like his to recruit for US institutions. It would be expected agents would instead recruit for competitor countries.

Millersville University in Pennsylvania noted the prohibition of using international recruitment agencies would “severely limit” its international recruitment plan, according to its submission.

Additionally, agents that have recruited students for fall 2023 could lose the ability to receive compensation/ commission, which has the potential to cause a breach of contract, it said.

The guidance also extends beyond higher education, with Rachel Pusch, director of Enrollment Management at Riverstone International School in Idaho highlighting the expanded TPS definition “would result in major disruptions for US schools international education programs”.

“If the Department wishes to receive better information and documentation to monitor compliance with the prohibition against incentive payments to third-party recruiters, it should build a regulatory framework and information collection tool to accomplish that goal,” NAFSA said.

NACAC said it acknowledges the “increasingly complex environment”, highlighting that the current guidance “presents an opportunity to provide additional clarity to international Title IV-eligible institutions about the use of commissioned agents to recruit students in the US, provided such students are not eligible for Title IV funding”.

Any impact on attracting top international talent to the US could threaten the $33.8 billion and over 335,000 US jobs international students contribute to the country’s economy each year.

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