Following its landmark, and contentious, decision three years ago to allow US institutions to use agents to recruit students from outside the US, on 24 September 2016 the NACAC Assembly recently approved updates to its Statement of Principles of Good Practice (as at 27 September 2016 the updated document was not yet available on the NACAC website).

There are two additions as follows:

  • Colleges that use agents should “require those representatives to disclose to their student clients all institutions who are compensating them.”
  • In colleges’ promotional materials for international students, “institutions should offer to verify whether they have authorized any third party agents to represent them and indicate how students may request this verification.”

The update was approved by the Assembly by a vote of 194 to 8, with no debate.

The new measures appear to be aimed at improving transparency to address what many in the US perceive to be the inherent conflict of interest associated with commission based agents.  In a nutshell the concern is that the advice provided by agents is inherently biased because they have a financial incentive to advise prospective students to enroll in the institutions from which they receive commissions.

Inside Higher Ed reports that:

Privately, some NACAC members who are critical of the use of agents said they viewed the measure as well meaning, but unlikely to lead to serious changes in practice. They noted that it was not mandatory and that many agents work without much supervision by the American colleges that hire them.

Why beat around the bush?

The second of the two updates says that institutions should, in their international student promotional materials, “offer to verify whether they have authorized any third party agents to represent them and indicate how students may request this verification.”The broad aim here is right – international students should have a definitive way to know if a particular agent acts for a given institution – but the approach seems odd. Basically it’s suggesting that institutions make an offer along the following lines to prospective international students: “If you are working with an agent that claims to act for us, please ask us if the agent in fact acts for us and we’ll tell you if they do or don’t”.

An obvious concern with this is that it puts the onus on the student to ask the question, which does not seem ideal. Second, it leaves open the possibility that a student could invest time working with an agent before asking the question, only to discover that the agent does not act for the institution/s that they are interested in.

Why not instead simply require institutions to list their agents on their website?  In Australia all institutions are legally required to list their agents.  Failure to do so is a criminal offence. It is a simple, transparent approach.

Keep it secret. Keep it safe.

Several US institutions that we have spoken to fear that by listing their agents on their website they will be giving up valuable commercial information and losing competitive advantage in the market.  That is understandable. Institutions who are serious about working with agents spend a lot of time and invest significant resources in building and managing their agent networks.  Why should they simply hand valuable information about good agents to their competitors?

But there is another side to that coin.  If you have built a well functioning agent network, doesn’t it make sense to market that network to prospective students so that they can easily find and make contact with an agent in their country?

What’s so good about a list anyway?

There are huge opportunities for institutions in working with agents, but many risks too.  Simply listing agents on an institution’s website does not make those risks go away.  Listing should be just one element of a broader system of agent management, which includes regular engagement with agents, training, and monitoring of agent performance.

If you are considering your approach to education agent management, please check out AgentBee. It’s a complete cloud-based agent management system designed for in-house recruitment teams that:

  1. Increases enrollments through your agent channel – by making it easy for you to engage with agents regularly and give them easy access to the information and resources they need to recruit for you.
  1. Saves time for in-house recruitment teams – by making it easy to do the daily tasks involved with managing your agent network – eg updates, training, and performance monitoring.
  1. Manages risk – by giving you tools to protect your brand and reputation by monitoring agent professionalism and performance.