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US: 1/3 of universities use agents directly to recruit overseas

A shift in approach to international student recruitment has occurred in the last three years in the USA, with just over one-third of US universities now working directly with education agents to support the international student recruitment process, according to new in-depth research into the pace of adoption revealed at the NAFSA conference here in Denver.

Australia, at 62%, took the lead in terms of embedding agency relationships into its international student recruitment activities, followed by Canada (41%), the UK (38%), New Zealand (31%) and then the USA. Photo: The PIE News

In 2015, an estimated 22% of all international student enrolments were via an agent channel

Of the 131 institutions who responded to the survey, one-third of these indicated that they had embarked on formalising agent recruitment channels in the last three years.

And these same institutions placed 22% of their total international student enrolments into the USA via an agency partnership in 2015.

Furthermore, of those institutions not working directly with agents, 12% worked with pathway operators and therefore indirectly enabled counselling agencies to help recruit students.

These were among the key findings presented in a report undertaken by StudentMarketing and commissioned by Denver-based Bridge Education Group. The research, which took six months to complete, not only canvassed 131 institutions (which between them accounted for 93,391 international students or 9.5% of the post-secondary international student population), but included a mystery shopper initiative, which saw a “student” approach 454 institutions asking for partner agency information in their own country.

“I would say that the slight growth from 20-30% to 37% could be argued as a healthy sign”

When compared against usage rates in other countries, the pace of adoption can be considered cautious. Concerns over trust, and reputation – given  a commission-based payment system – remain the two biggest obstacles preventing US institutions more pro-actively working with student recruitment companies, the research revealed.

Canvassing 343 education agencies from 64 agencies as well (and conducting in-depth interviews with key stakeholders), the report compares the estimated share of international student enrolments via agencies in major education destinations. Australia, at 62%, took the lead in terms of embedding agency relationships into its international student recruitment activities, followed by Canada (41%), the UK (38%), New Zealand (31%) and then the USA.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 09.26.46Samuel Vetrak, CEO of StudentMarketing, told The PIE News he felt the timing was perfect for this piece of research, given the NACAC position change on the use of commission-based agency recruitment nearly three years ago.

“Many people are curious on this topic,” he said. “Some because they consider the pace of adoption slow, some because they consider it too fast and rapid. And to really have this conversation, why don’t we look at data and find out how it is? So it was very useful topic, really, a contribution to the sector.”

Discussing the findings of the report in Denver were panellists that included Eddie West, director of international initiatives at NACAC, the organisation whose position on using commission-based recruiters internationally (it does not endorse commission-based domestic recruitment) was seen as pivotal for many of its members.

“To really have this conversation, why don’t we look at data and find out how it is?”

He said the figure indicating that 37% of US institutions now worked with agencies chimed with NACAC’s own surveys, and other research over time, that 20-30% of its members worked with agents.

“Insofar as NACAC has some influence on the admissions environment… we always try to emphasise it is conditional upon our members [to demonstrate] integrity, accountability and transparency,” he said.

“I would say that the slight growth from 20-30% to 37% could be argued as a healthy sign. Why? Because it shows we’re influencing the conversation to some extent. It’s not been turbo-charged growth, it’s been measured growth.”

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