EducationAgentReviews.com is a new website focused on improving transparency and standards in the education agency recruitment process. It also features listings of current international education conferences, recruitment tours, lead generation websites, and higher education recruitment partners.
Anna P. Harrison is the entrepreneur behind the new website.
Anna P. Harrison
Anna P. Harrison is the founder of the new website EducationAgentReviews.com. She is also the Assistant Director of International Admissions at Duquesne University, with ten years’ experience working in international and higher education.
We recently launched our Agent Manager solution which supports in-house teams to manage education agents in line with best practice. Given the shared interest in improving the process and outcomes of international student recruitment through education agents I was keen to find out more about Anna’s project.
She very kindly agreed to help by answering some questions.
Q: Thanks for your time Anna, let’s get straight to it. Give us the “elevator pitch” on EducationAgentReviews.com. What does it do and what’s the aim?
EducationAgentReviews.com provides a comprehensive directory of hundreds of potential international student recruitment partners around the world, allowing universities to leave comments and star ratings about their experiences.
It’s also not just agents who are listed – there’s a master calendar of international recruitment events, and there are listings of conferences, tours, fairs, and online advertisers/lead generators. It’s a one-stop shop for universities looking to see what type of recruitment partnerships are available.
After hearing from several institutions and colleagues that they were frustrated about how difficult it is to find new partnerships, aside from attending expensive conferences or being pressured by sales-y emails from strangers, I thought to myself, “I wish there was a TripAdvisor- or Yelp-like website where you could browse by subject or country, and also read reviews/references so you could know where to find good partners. You shouldn’t have to sit next to someone at a conference lunch just to find out who they recommend working with.” And that’s basically the driving motivation behind everything at EducationAgentReviews.com. You can use the website to browse for new partners or to check references on agencies in whom you’re interested. Reviews are submitted by members, who must be employees of a university, community college, or ESL program.
I want to emphasize that this is not about bashing the “bad” agents or partners. Most of the already published reviews are actually quite high – universities want to say positive things about their favorite international recruitment partners!
I believe that international education marketers need to find the best product, partner, or agent that’s right for them. This is about being able to collect comments and thoughtful reviews about how a potential partner worked with your peers. Particularly for smaller institutions, or institutions with a limited budget, they can use the comments on the site to decide if a recruitment conference is worth attending, if a recruitment tour is a good fit for them, or if an agent would match their communication style.
Q: It’s still early days for EducationAgentReviews.com. How is it going so far?
It’s going great! There are over 220 international recruitment partners listed. It’s been exciting to see the positive reception. There isn’t anything like this out there. Now we are working on grassroots networking to let other universities know about this resource. In the first 2 months of launch, over 100 higher education institutions (including community colleges and ESL programs) signed up. After the holidays, we’ll enter 2017 with a sharp focus on collecting reviews from these current institutional members and marketing ourselves to new universities who don’t yet know about us.
We’re also going to be offering small scholarships (to be awarded to the international student of the university’s choice) to students of the universities who contribute reviews as a motivation to share resources. I’ll be making this announcement in early 2017.
Q: Tell us some more about the key features and benefits for educational institutions and agents.
Universities can not only search by partner name, but they can actually browse and find new partners. For instance, if you want to find out what recruitment help there is for finding African students, you can either select the Africa category, or you can type “Africa” into the search bar! A variety of agents, lead generation websites, and/or marketing partners will pop up. This is my favorite benefit. I actually have learned so much about prospective partners simply from running the website and being contacted by partners/agents asking to be listed.
Another benefit is the free information sharing. There is a PDF available for download, “How to Write an Agent Training Manual,” for instance, and there are blog posts about visiting agent’s offices or how to pick a recruitment tour. In 2017 we’ll continue to expand with more guest bloggers!
Benefits for agencies and recruitment partners are the added exposure to the American market. Right now, it can be difficult for some agencies or partners to get the word out about their services, unless they pay big exhibition fees to be at conferences or they send non-personalized emails to the directors of international offices. However, now they can have a listing on the website, and be exposed to hundreds of new universities by have their name and positive feedback displayed. It’s armchair recruiting from the agent perspective! I encourage all agents to ask their current university partners to go ahead and leave them feedback so they can build up their star reviews.
Q: Are there any costs involved for institutions or agents?
There are no costs for universities. You do have to register so that reviews are password protected and so that we can verify your employment as a higher education institution.
There is no cost to agencies to be listed, but there is a cost if they want a customized profile (uploaded logo, descriptions, PDFs, videos, etc) or to be a featured listing. This goes towards the cost of the website maintenance and the time it takes to update this information – it’s quite a lot of extra time spent, and it’s definitely a labor of love, not profit.
Q: The website says that it is “monitored by current university administrators”. What role do the moderators play?
We check everyone’s login so that we know that star ratings are being left by higher education employees and not by agents or students. We do this to maintain the integrity of the site. That was very important to me – I wanted to create a community where people felt they were getting real, useful feedback from colleagues and peers. I don’t sell or share the email addresses of any members. I want to model the same ethical behavior that we expect from our partners.
Q: Is your site designed specifically for US institutions, or will it be helpful for educational institutions in all markets?
It’s funny how ideas evolve. I originally had a focus on US institutions, merely due to my own professional experiences, but I’ve received emails from institutions in Europe, Canada, and Asia asking if they are also allowed to join.
Our agent use in North America does differ greatly from agent use in Australia and the UK for example – they’ve just been doing it for so much longer than the USA! So I hope that universities from these places can still find the website useful. I ended up modifying the website to say “higher education institution” instead of “if you have an .edu email address” as I was getting several international requests.
I would love to find a counterpart in these geographical areas who would help spread the word and network with other universities, and who would offer me feedback about what international institutions are looking for in a review site. I’m sure there must be a difference and I know that my perspective would be limited on this.
Q: What is your vision for EducationAgentReviews.com? Where will it be in five years?
In 5 years, whenever I open an unsolicited email from an agent asking if they can work with my university, I want to read an opening hook such as: “We have 15 reviews on EducationAgentReviews.com, and an average rating of 4.5 stars – check out our reviews and let us know if you’d like to work with us.”
In 5 years, I also envision heads of international offices telling their new employees: “Check the recruitment calendar at EducationAgentReviews.com for events in May – see if there is anything happening while you’re in Mexico and if you should meet up with that agent that keeps emailing us. Oh, and I’m willing to consider your request for attending that expensive conference overseas, but send me their posting URL from EducationAgentReviews.com so I can read the reviews and see if it’s worth it.”
I also think we will see a name change coming down the line. The website has already expanded so much to include conferences and recruitment tours and other partners (including student athlete recruiters), so I think some viewers are turned off by the word “agent” being in the URL. It’s something I’m investigating.
Q: The use of education agents by US institutions is gaining pace since the NACAC decision in 2013 to allow the use of agents. Do you think that trend will continue?
Yes — I don’t think the trend will be reversed.
Agent use was going on by American institutions even before 2013 and there are many colleagues in the field whose opinions and advice I greatly value and respect. What’s happening now is that many more universities are getting into the agent game at the same time as they are drastically expanding their international recruitment efforts. This can be overwhelming for new colleagues who are suddenly tasked with expanding their international student recruitment and learn how to manage agents at the same time, if their institution previously never invested funds in it. This is another reason why I envision my website helping these institutions with discovering all the resources available in international student recruitment.
Q: What do you see as the main risk and opportunities for institutions in using education agents and how can EducationAgentReviews.com help?
Agent use is a huge investment of time and money. I don’t think institutions are always sensitive to that. Agents can be incredibly useful and supportive partners, but they require a time investment, especially in the beginning. You need to build relationships, be available for trainings and questions, and be patient through any small problems in the beginning as you get to know each other. Some institutions don’t consider this, and they don’t set up any time to invest in this partner, and this leads to problems or lackluster results down the road.
You also need to be clear about your recruitment goals. If you’ve never looked at your own recruitment trends and done an analysis of where your students are coming from, there may be a tendency to blame the agents when your recruitment numbers aren’t impressive. But if you’re only signing agents from China, and ignoring the fact that you actually struggle in the Chinese market but do really well in Vietnam, for instance, you’re not setting up your agency partnerships for success. It’s important that universities really take stock of their own recruitment trends and strategies, and don’t expect agents to be miracle workers.
That being said, EducationAgentReviews.com can help in helping universities find agents and partners that fit their desired geographic targets, and by reading the reviews they can try to pick partners that match their own styles and goals. Personally, when I read reviews of agents I’ve also worked with, it’s wonderful to have a feeling of “Oh, you too?” rather than think that perhaps this was just a personality problem or miscommunication and that I was alone in this experience.
So there you have it – EducationAgentReviews.com – a great new website to assist educational institutions to identify good new agents or recruitment partners and monitor their current relationships.
Oh…and if you’re interested in more information on our education agent management solution that I mentioned briefly above, you can find it here.