And it shared details of its marketing activities during a recent closing plenary which detailed a clear cross-department agenda to promote international education.
Speaking at the recent AIRC conference in the US, Caroline Casagrande, deputy assistant secretary for Academic Programs at the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, spoke about how agents can fit into broader EducationUSA network advising and activity.
“It’s never been more important that ECA, AIRC and the Department of Commerce work together to promote the United States as the top study destination of choice,” she told the audience of AIRC-recognised education agencies and US HE stakeholders.
She also noted that ECA has hired a marketing firm to develop and deliver a global messaging strategy.
“It will probably be the most refined messaging you’ve seen from the United States aimed at the international student community,” Casagrande said.
Her Twitter feed also reveals a schedule of global travel which has already taken in China and Brazil, to promote the message that the US welcomes international students.
Casagrande appeared at last year’s AIRC conference to make the historic announcement that ECA’s EducationUSA global advising network – comprised of 435 offices in 180 countries worldwide – would begin to partner with agents and permit agents to participate in EdUSA fairs and meetings.
Previously, State Department policy had barred agents from EdUSA activities, maintaining that some commission-incentivised agents could be expected to at times put their financial interests above that of students’ academic careers.
“Looking back over the past 12 months, I am pleased to say that the feedback has been, for the most part, very positive,” Casagrande said.
“US colleges and universities report that agents who represent their institution abroad really allow them to stretch their limited recruitment dollars, and US institutions and state consortia now send reputable agents to EdUSA events.”
Casagrande said that the inclusion of recruiting agencies at EdUSA events would continue to make up part of the State Department’s broader marketing efforts to attract more international students to US colleges and universities.
Meanwhile, an expansion to the network of EducationUSA centres has also been announced.
“The change in the stance of EducationUSA towards engaging with the agents is an indicator of an increasingly competitive landscape where students have more choices than ever before,” commented Rahul Choudaha, a US-based international education expert and primary researcher at DrEducation.
“It also suggests a realisation that in an unwelcoming political context, universities need to double-down in communicating the value of the US as a destination,” he added.
“While the growth in the Chinese undergraduate market helped some American universities to grow enrolment and absorb the shock of the global financial recession, however, this time there are hardly any options of segments offering high potential growth.”
In Miami, Casagrande reiterated that there is plenty of room for more international students in the US higher education system, noting that 70% of international students attend the same 200 schools, primarily in New York, California and Texas.
“We’d like to see international students in all our 4,700 schools in the United States and we think it’s important for the diversity of the United States that they’re not just located on the coast but throughout the country,” Casagrande said.
“We’d like to see international students in all our 4,700 schools in the United States”
A 2019 National Association for College Admission Counseling brief shows that about 36% of responding institutions use commission-based agents, while another 27% were actively considering the practice.
Notably, “more selective institutions were less likely to be either using agents or interested in doing so,” per the brief.
Philip Altbach, a research professor and founding director of Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education, said that overall there is room for optimism about the sector. “The US ‘brand’ is still very good despite Trump, costs and the like,” he commented.
However Altbach, who readily acknowledges that he is a critic of commercial agents, believes that associating the State Department with commercial interests may ultimately tarnish the United States’ image.
“The great danger of EdUSA jumping into bed with commercial recruiters is that the ‘brand’ of American higher education will necessarily be linked with those recruiters. EdUSA should provide information about US higher education through maintaining a very active internet presence and through its traditional means.”