Nacac softens stance on agent usage in USA

June 14, 2013

The National Association for College Admission Counselling (Nacac) in the USA has indicated a softening of its stance towards commission-based agency recruitment, recommending a policy that members “should not” provide incentive-based compensation, rather than current wording of “may not”.

The University of Findlay at the Alphe Korea 2012 agent workshop

Nacac’s Commission on International Student Recruitment has submitted its report and recommendations for changes to the Statement of Principles of Good Practice. Specifically, the commission recommends:

Members must not provide [mandatory] incentive compensation based on the number of students enrolled domestically.

Members should not provide [best practice] incentive compensation based on the number of students enrolled internationally.

In the report, the Commission said Nacac needed to recognise the current state of international recruitment by “removing the absolute restriction in favour of a more nuanced, best practice stance”. Approximately one-quarter of higher education institutions are currently using agency-based recruitment for degree-seeking international students, the report said. Given that 26.8 per cent of institutions do not actively recruit overseas, around one third of those that are actively recruiting internationally are using agents.

“The Commission acknowledged that the environment for international student recruitment practices is dynamic, not static,” said Philip A. Ballinger, Assistant Vice President for Enrollment and Director of Admissions at Washington University, who served as Commission Chair.

“This means that while incentive-based agency and its use are prevalent in many countries, change is possible and is occurring. The Commission believes that Nacac has an important role in guiding this change, change that may follow the historical course charted in the United States over the past century or more. This means that Nacac must engage the reality of commissioned agency in international contexts if it wishes to promote change,” said Ballinger.

It was agreed that colleges must retain appropriate oversight of their relationships. “Accountability for ethical recruitment and student support, particularly in the rapidly growing international recruitment market, rests with institutions.”

The Commission also proposes a framework for institutions that do employ third party agents to recruit students, emphasising accountability, transparency and integrity.

In terms of transparency, the Commission recommends: clear disclosure of arrangements by institutions with third-party agents to prospective students; providing clear disclosure of arrangements by agents with institutions to students; and ensuring that terms of transactions between agents, institutions and families are clear and published.

It was acknowledged that there had been successful agency partnerships among Nacac members. “There are institutions and organisations which appear to use such agency responsibly and demonstrably for the good of the students they serve.” The report also outlined many of the benefits that agents provide for both schools and students.

The long-standing concerns with commission-based payments were also outlined. “While not all Commission members agreed that problems were endemic to the practice of incentive compensation, members generally agreed that there were circumstances under which incentive compensation could prove problematic by exacerbating tendencies toward misbehaviour.” The report said members agreed there was potential for conflict of interest among agents representing multiple institutions.

In the report, Nacac makes clear that it does not dispute the value of agents, but rather that the issue of commission has caused consternation. In 2011, Nacac decided not to ban the use of commission payments and instead appointed the Commission to investigate the issue (See Study Travel Magazine, September 2011, page 7).

The recommendations will be voted on for approval by members at the Nacac National Conference in Toronto in September.

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