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Jim Miller, President of NACAC, USA

The National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) in the USA made headlines earlier this year for considering a ban on members that paid commissions internationally to education agents.

Now, Nacac has appointed a commission that will spend two years considering an official position. President, Jim Miller, talks to The PIE about this topic, revealing a clash of welfare and commercial interests and that the issue is per-head recruting, rather than using agencies per se.

The PIE: NACAC has been in the press a lot recently. Other countries like the UK and Australia have historically been very open about using recruitment agencies over the last 10 years at least. Do you feel that the US is out on a limb at the moment in terms of not being so receptive to recruitment agencies? 

"We know there are numerous colleges who are having success internationally without paying agents or engaging agents at all in a formal way"

JM: Let me give you a bit of background. Our overseas affiliate has 1,000 members so we’re not just national anymore. We were started 74 yrs ago because a group of admission representatives from some American colleges felt that the profession of guiding students as they make choices had to have standards. That has been the core and foundation of the association and now we’ve grown to where we have more than 11,000 members from many different countries and a high level of market penetration within the US.

For at least the past 40 yrs, we’ve had the Statement of Principals of Good Practice that articulate what we have come to as a group believe are the practices we should follow in the work we do – some of them are mandatory, some are recommended. For at least those 40 years, there’s always been a statement in there that says you should not pay or receive compensation for recruitment services on a per-head basis.

A year ago, our overseas affiliate asked us to interpret whether that statement included anywhere globally or if it was only related to recruitment within the US. We spent this year in conversations as well as having a comment period with folks from high school and colleges and universities, both domestic and international, taking input about this issue. The only thing we’re looking at is compensation on a per-student student basis, not using agents.

After considering the comments, the admissions practices’ committee decided at this point we believe that the statement is universal and applies to wherever we do our work. However, we agreed that – since we recognise that a significant number, not most, of schools are using this [recruitment] mode –  for the next two years we will not have any enforcement of the ban, but a commission including members and non-members will look at that issue as well as other dimensions of international recruitment to see how we can offer more guidance to our members about appropriate practices. And help them to find cost efficient and efficient ways to recruit students that are sensitive to the protection of the student’s interests.

Miller at the recent NACAC conference

Back to your question – this is obviously something that is not taking the same approach that the European and Commonwealth countries have taken and we’re ok with that because there are lots of things we do differently in the US to the UK or other nations. That said, we recognise that we don’t control the world and we want to be sensitive to cultural differences, sensitive to institutional needs but at the same time we’ve essentially re-affirmed that our primary concern and sensitivity is to what’s in the best interests of students.

The PIE: I imagine at this juncture that you’re not imagining you’ll turn around and say that that a per-head recruiting model is OK, in which case which other model would you imagine recommending your members might use in order to work with agencies?

JM: I know that some organisations have contracts with agents on a consulting or flat fee basis. One of the things we don’t like about a per-head basis is the idea a student could come into an agent and be directed to one university over another on the basis that that university is paying more commission than another, regardless of whether it’s not the best fit for that student. So we don’t have the answers yet – we’re seeking them. We know there are numerous colleges who are having success internationally without paying agents or engaging agents at all in a formal way. Some other are using agents through either no pay or different pay modes than on a per head basis. We need to learn more about that so we can give information back to our members.

The PIE:. If you accept that working with agents is inevitable – and I think it is – even if you offered them a flat-fee agreement rather than working on a per-head basis, don’t you just end up with the same problem? No agent would want to or could feasibly represent 1,000 institutions. Students want agents to do the initial selection for them and present them with, for example, 10 institutions to choose from. So don’t you simply get the same problem in that agents being paid on a flat-fee arrangement would simply recommend the institution that’s paying the highest flat-fee?

JM: That’s a conundrum and we don’t yet have the answer to that. We recognise that some things can’t be legislated and we’ve seen ample examples of that within the US congress. The fundamental parameters of our policies has been more of a commonly accepted professional standard. This is more complex than that.

“That’s a conundrum and we don’t yet have the answer to that”

The PIE: I think it’s the overlapping of education and commercial which is the conundrum itself.

JM: Absolutely. During the comment period, we receive nearly 300 comments from colleagues around the world. Ninety per cent of those who said we should continue to ban it internationally – as we always have domestically – cited concern for students. For those who said we should not ban it, 90% of them said ‘this is important to my institution and we have to have tuition revenue’ and so they talked about it from a business model that they need this for the purpose of efficacy and revenue generation and getting students in their seats. So it’s definitely a bi-modal view.

There are numerous American universities at which the international recruitment is in a totally different office from [domestic admissions]. People who really don’t have the foundation of professional admission counselling and admission processes. They get there by virtue of being international folks with significant international experience and exposure. So they’re knowlegable about travel and visas and all the kinds of things that go around international education, but often they’re not experienced and knowledgeable in the culture of admissions as it operates in the US.

We need to learn from our members and from others – and we need to share stories – and we are hopeful that by the end of this two years we have something that works. But we have no idea what that will be.

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3 Responses to Jim Miller, President of NACAC, USA

  1. As an agent – or better- an education consultant, since 1990- my opinion has always been that international rules and recognictions about the role of these people should be fixed. We are like in a limbo, sometimes and somehow considered people “begging” for money. I understand that many USA Colleges and Universities are too prestigeous (like many UK, Australian and Canadian institutions) and do not need the work of agents, but why should we put our organisations, staff and resources at disposal for free for the colleges and universities who ask for our help to recruite students? It is true that education in the interest of the students shouldn’t be mixed with “commercial” interest, but International Education is a big, big market, where nobody is willing to work for nothing, we couldn’t afford it! Last, but not least, do you think that workshops and fairs would survive if the agents’ expectations will be to work for free? This is a very sensitive issue which needs a solution.

  2. Most of us who want to use educational consultants do so because that is what the students and their parents want. I like having a contact that can act as a go between the school and the parents. It is a valuable assets in times of emergencies. Most of the people against using agents do so due to racism and mistrust of foreigners (they can’t be trusted) or from schools that simply do not have to recruit students. The last breakdown of who voted for or against, most voting against it were high school administrators. Their recruitment and university recruitment is apples and oranges.

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