International Educator - September/October 2017 - Supplement - S8

What to Look For
(and Look Out For) in an Agent
AMONG U.S. COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES, 37 percent reported using international agents directly, and 12 percent said they collaborate
indirectly with agencies, according to a 2016 Bridge Education Group survey. That report came out three years after the National Association
for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reversed its ban on commissioned agents, although the Middle States Commission on Higher
Education proposed its own ban early this year.
New research from World Education Services (WES)-which draws upon 5,880 surveyed current and prospective students, 23 percent of
whom worked with agents-finds that 83 percent of those who worked with agents were satisfied. More than two-thirds found their agents'
help valuable, more than 70 percent were satisfied with the agents' rates, and nearly one in five paid more than $1,000 to an agent whose
work had already been paid for by institutions-a phenomenon known as double dipping.

Trustworthiness
Experts are divided on how much to rely on agents. "I think trust is the biggest thing," says Tim Tesar, the associate director of admissions at Simpson College in Iowa. "When I used agents in the past, I would typically only work with those that had come recommended
to me from a trusted source, or ones I had met personally on the road or at a conference." The key, he says, is to find the good agents
who truly have students' best interests at heart, and arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement.
Much of the conversation about agents tends toward "gross oversimplification," cautions University of Maryland-Baltimore County
Associate Vice Provost of International Education David Di Maria. "Critics say all agents are bad, and advocates say all agents are good,
when in fact recruitment agencies are just as diverse as postsecondary institutions," he says. "Some agents are unethical while others
demonstrate higher ethics than the institutions they represent."
Colleges should evaluate agents much like they do student applications, Di Maria advises. "The important factor when evaluating an
application from a prospective agent is determining fit between the applicant and the institution," he says.

Certification
Di Maria also recommends working with agents whom the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC) certifies. "These organizations would have already had to pass a rigorous review focused on ensuring their adherence to industry standards," he says. "They also
have a lot to lose should they ever violate these standards."
Not all agents are created equally, Di Maria says: Some are paid commissions on each enrollment. Others are alumni who receive
stipends to attend education fairs or to interview applicants. "There is also a growing number of highly ranked institutions that claim not
to contract with agents, but who contract with third-party intensive English programs, pathway programs, and other entities that do," he
says. "A steady enrollment pipeline is established that depends upon a network of subcontracted agencies that represent the institution,
but who technically have no formal business relationship with the institution."

Good Fit
Colleges and universities ought to have guidelines and standard operating processes in place for working with and training agents, but
also before they sign new agents, according to Salma Benhaida, director of international recruitment, admissions, and sponsored student
services at Kent State University. "Institutions need to have a vetting process in place and check references, but also strategically select
their agent portfolio based on what their institutional goals are for international enrollment," she says. And don't expect agents to be a
magic bullet; they often require a lot of time and support resources. "Just signing the contract doesn't necessarily translate into students,"
she says.
Jon Weller, director of international admissions at University of Cincinnati, agrees and advises having realistic expectations of agents.
"Merely signing one, 20, or 200 agents doesn't automatically lead to increased international enrollment," he says. "Universities will
have to invest in the agent relationship to ensure enrollment results, such as traveling to train agents and meet students in their offices,
providing marketing materials to agents, as well as dedicating staff resources to managing and monitoring the agent relationship." That
includes tracking which agent submits which applications, and monitoring how successful each agent's enrollees are down the road.
While some institutions categorically think that compensating agents is unethical, that has not been Weller's experience. "Not all
agents are perfect, just like not all university recruiters are perfect," he says. "But quality agents are focused on student satisfaction, as
they rely heavily on referrals for future business. They understand that short-term commission payments from universities on behalf of
unhappy students will not be enough to stay in business long term."

8  

INTERNATIONAL EDUCATOR S E P T. + O C T. 17 * I N T E R N AT I O N A L R E C RU I TM E N T A N D E N R O L L M E N T S U P P L E M E N T



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