I recently posted on the changes relating to education agents that NACAC made a couple of weeks ago to its best practice principles.
In developing that post I looked again at NACAC’s best practice guide: International Student Recruitment Agencies – A guide for schools, colleges and universities.
It’s a very useful resource for in-house recruitment teams that are are using education agents to recruit international students – whether you are just starting out building an agent network, or you’ve been working with agents for a while.
The guide sets out in detail the key elements that should form part of an effective education agent management strategy.
The challenge for stretched in-house recruitment teams is matching the theory with practice. Designing and maintaining an effective agent management strategy requires time and resources. Both are usually scarce for in-house teams.
In-house teams often get caught in a catch-22 when it comes to agent management – they don’t have time to create an agent management system, but the absence of a good system for education agent management means that they are wasting time unnecessarily on agent management.
Our Agent Manager solution can help here. It supports in-house recruitment teams by streamlining the agent management process and automating as many of the routine day-to-day tasks as possible. The benefits are: increased enrollments through your agent channel, substantial time saving, and better risk management.
NACAC Best Practice Guide: Key Elements
In the rest of this post I’ll take a look at the key elements of the best practice education agent management approach in the NACAC guide, offer some thoughts, and also explain how our Agent Manager solution can make it easier for you to implement best practice.
Step 1: Assess the Agency Based Recruitment model as a Strategy
Engage key campus stakeholders in critical conversations.
Assess existing policies and practices relevant to international student recruitment agencies, and anticipate campus impacts.
Review regulations and standards to which the institution must adhere.
This is probably the most critical part of the process. It is essential that an institution has a clear plan and purpose in working with agents.
Importantly, institutions should consider the return on investment (ROI) in working with agents. Will the benefits outweigh the costs and risk involved in working with agents?
This assessment must be informed by an assessment of what it will cost to actually implement a best practice education agent management plan. This leads nicely on to step 2.
Step 2: Develop institutional protocol for working with agencies.
Develop a departmental or institutional policy.
Define agency roles and responsibilities.
Identify and assign responsible individual(s) at the institution as agency liaison(s).
Develop an agency manual, and curriculum for agency training.
Establish an assessment plan.
Working with agents requires groundwork, and quite a bit of it. Many years ago an army drill instructor of mine was fond of the saying (which he usually shouted): “Failing to plan is planning to fail!”. Turns out he borrowed it, but it’s stayed with me, and it is very relevant for institutions that are working with agents.
If the plan is to start working with agents and ‘see how it goes’, you have a problem. Sure, you may get some students referred by agents, but your approach is likely to be ad hoc and inefficient. You may still achieve a positive ROI, but it will well short of what it could be if you develop and implement a clear plan.
Most important of all, you’ll lack the necessary framework of oversight and safeguards that protect your brand and reputation, and the international students that are referred to you.
Step 3: Develop a contract.
Consult the Legal department or external counsel.
Confirm signatory authority and protocols.
Confer with the Risk Management department.
With the same colleagues, develop an approved certificate of representation or letter of authorization.
It is important to get the terms of you agency contract/agreement right.
Page 11 of the NACAC Guide provides a list of sample content for the contract. If want to see how agreements are actually drafted, simply google “education agent agreement” or “education agent contract”, and you should get some good examples.
Once you have appointed an agent you should provide them with a certificate of representation or letter of authorization. Our Agent Manager solution makes it easy to manage that process and the full agent ‘life cycle’ from recruitment to settled agency agreement.
Step 4: Select agencies.
Consult with peer institutions and trusted colleagues to identify prospective agencies.
Develop and implement an agency questionnaire or application.
Evaluate agency applications. n Interview agencies/agents.
Choosing the right agents at the outset is crucial. Get it right and you’ll build an agent network that will generate international student enrollments ethically and professionally. Get it wrong and at best you’ll waste time managing agents that are not committed to working with you. At worst you’ll run the very serious risk of an unprofessional or dishonest agent trashing your brand and mistreating students.
The Agent Manager solution enables you to create an online application process for new agents. The online application form is based on the sample questions set out in the NACAC guide.
When a new agent applies you will be notified and you can log in to your Agent Manager portal to review the application. From there you can accept or reject the application.
Step 5: Train agencies.
Develop a training calendar, with trainings scheduled ideally once per term or, at minimum, per year
Deliver trainings in-person or through a virtual format, using an agency manual.
When working with agents a ‘set-and-forget’ approach won’t work. To get the best results and return on investment for all of the work you have done to set up your agent strategy and recruit agents you must be in regular contact with your agents. It is a competitive market and your agents will usually be working with many other institutions. If you are not keeping in touch with your agents regularly it may well be a case of ‘out of sight out of mind’.
Regular training is perhaps the most important aspect of this frequent communication. It is critical that your agents have up to date knowledge on your institution and courses so that they are providing the right advice to prospective students.
Ok, all this regular communication and training sounds great in principle, but it can be really difficult to do it systematically and efficiently if you are trying to do it via email. It is time consuming for you and not particularly user friendly for agents, who have to search through their old emails to figure out what updates you have provided.
You need a good system.
The Agent Manager solution makes it easy for you to stay in regular touch with your agents. It is simply a matter of logging in and posting a quick update in the same way as you would on Facebook or Linkedin. Your agents will then be automatically notified of the update by email.
You can also provide your agents with updated training and marketing material – documents, videos, podcasts etc – by uploading it to your Agent Manager portal. All of your up to date material is then available for agents to log in and access/download any time they need it.
Step 6: Monitor agency activity during a recruitment cycle.
Visit the agency’s office in country.
Review agency-generated reports.
Agent monitoring is a real challenge for many in-house teams because without a good system it can be very resource intensive.
In country visits are great if you can afford the expense and time, but if you have a large agent network it’s unlikely that you will be able to visit them regularly. You’d spend your entire life on the road and probably use up your budget in the process.
Agent Manager enables you to monitor your agents with one-click access to dynamic business intelligence, including:
- student reviews
- professional memberships and accreditations
- client references
- current client list
- misconduct alerts.
Step 7: Assess the agency relationship as stipulated in the contract.
Evaluate outcomes against the terms of the contract.
Track and benchmark student performance.
Gather direct student feedback.
Address performance with the agency.
Taking regular stock of how your agents perform is an important part of the process. Getting feedback from your international students on their experience with their education agent will give you insight into whether your agents are providing an acceptable level of service to prospective students, consistent with your expectations.
As discussed under step 6 above, Agent Manager enables you to easily survey your new international students on their education agent experience.
If there is a problem with one of your agents, Agent Manager enables you to pause their access to the portal until you have sorted out the problem.
In the event that you decide to cancel the agency agreement, you can cancel an agent’s access to your Agent Manager portal permanently with a single click.
Step 8: Evaluate the agency model in the context of broader international enrollment management strategy.
Conduct a cost-benefit analysis vis-à-vis alternative, or supplemental, recruitment methods.
This is where it all comes together. There is a lot of time and effort involved in building and managing an education agent network. If your education agent strategy is not delivering a solid ROI you may need to reconsider your approach, or reallocate your resources to different recruitment channels. Alternatively, if you agent strategy is on fire, you may consider focusing more of your resources on that channel to capitalise on your success.