Agents are very important to our programme,” says Anne-Marie Bereza of Ottawa International Student Programs at Ottawa-Carleton District School Board in Canada, highlighting the important role education consultants have to play in growing international student enrolments in secondary schools in the USA and Canada. “Seventy per cent of our international students are from agents.”
With many secondary schools in the USA and Canada both in the public and private sector looking to develop their international student recruitment strategies, debate regarding the use of education consultants is ongoing. However, many schools with a well-developed international programmes area agree that to ensure a wide range of student nationalities, consultants are essential to the marketing mix.
Blair McDonald, Director of Braemar College in Toronto, ON, Canada, says, “Agents form the backbone of our marketing efforts. They have knowledge of the local market that is difficult-to-impossible for a school to acquire, given the number of markets a school covers in our case 35 markets this year. Approximately 85 per cent of our students are referred via agents.”
When dealing with secondary school aged children, consultants provide a vital link between the school and the parent throughout the enrolment process and beyond. Many parents like the fact that they have someone they can call upon in their own country and language to deal with any issues that may arise. Bereza also highlights that a consultant can deal with a lot of the communication between school and family. “The number one advantage of working with agents is that it is less work for us in the office with questions,” she says. “The agent has an important role in the application process, orientation and also in communicating with the family after the student is in Ottawa.”
Scott Eckstein from Solebury School in New Hope, PA, in the USA says that they use education consultants as well as overseas marketing trips to recruit international students. “Much of the success we have is due to the relationships with consultants we have developed. When consultants understand your school and your programmes, they can help you not simply find students, but to find students who are good fits for the school.”
The value of a good consultant is enhanced by making sure they are familiar with the school and are able to advise their clients effectively. The international programme at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Wilbraham, MA, in the USA, stretches back many years and the school was the first in the USA to enrol students from China in 1847. Currently, the school enrols students of between 20 and 30 different nationalities and for them a right fit between school and student is very important. Chris Sparks, Director of Admissions at the school, says, “The majority of the consultants that we work with have been on campus and understand what we are looking for. The main advantage they have is the ability to know their area better than anyone, which allows us to have a bigger presence, maximising our resources.”
The school also uses other methods of student recruitment such as “current or former parents who may host receptions in their hometown to generate interest in our school”, although Sparks reports that consultants are “very important” to their international recruiting efforts.
When it comes to finding new and good consultants to work with, many school representatives are clear that face-to-face contact is best at agent fairs. However, McDonald points out that there is more work to be done after attending a fair. “We have attended four agent fairs in the past 12 months. The success of an agent fair turns on the degree of follow up done by the school representative. Office visits, staff training, [and] doing joint promotional events are all key to taking a contact and turning them into an active partner who is referring students.”
Reaching out to new agents can also be done through personal visits to a country and can ultimately result in far more student enrolments than a direct marketing approach in that particular country. McDonald suggests that in countries such as Kazakhstan, using the local knowledge of consultants is essential. “This year we did a four-city tour [of Kazakhstan] with an agency and the results have been good. Trying to sell direct in a market like this where the school representative does not speak the language would be futile.”
For Eckstein, using consultants is essential when trying to tap into certain student markets. “Because the volume of applicants is lower, I find consultants from Europe in particular crucial in recruiting students,” he says.
Since 2008, public schools in Canada that offer international programmes have been able to join the Canadian Association of Public Schools International (Caps-i), an association that sets quality standards and promotes the use of overseas consultants.
Brent Poole, President of Caps-i, says according to a recent survey of members, more than two-thirds of all overseas students at member schools were referred by an overseas partner. He says, “We at Caps-i have strived to improve our website, printed material and online resources over the past year to help improve understanding among agents about public education in Canada and the various programme optionsand opportunities.”
As well as being a source of information for consultants, Caps-i also assists in facilitating consultant partnerships with schools. “Our organisation is happy to assist agents whether they are sourcing a unique programme to meet the needs of a particular student or, for example, are looking for a new partner for a short-term programme,” says Poole. “We will quickly and efficiently survey our membership and provide agents with several options to further explore.”