Recent Comments About Hot-Button Issues in the US Higher Education Media

…in response to these articles and other comments.  All are relevant – on some level – to Vietnam.


‘The End of Internationalization?’ by Elizabeth Redden, Inside Higher Ed (3 June 2011)

Why We Do What We Do

I agree with Dr. Knight that “internationalization has become a catch-all phrase for everything” and that most international educators miss the forest for the trees – i.e., do not reflect enough on the values that underpin their work, whose agenda(s) they’re advancing, and what their long-term goals are.

Now onto to the comments… The picture is not as black and white as it’s painted here. Yes, higher education is a business enterprise, there is a lack of funding for public higher education, and the world has become a much more competitive place. Having said that, most of us are not in the “education business” to get rich. (Working in education and getting rich are generally considered to be oxymoronic.) Regionally accredited HE institutions recognize and appreciate not only the economic impact of international students, but also the many other tangible and intangible benefits. It’s not just about “showing me the money.” The overall picture is much more nuanced and colorful and not nearly as one-dimensional and dire as some seem to think it is.

Agents and Recruiters: The Futility of Pretending to Certify Virtue By Liz Reisberg and Philip G. Altbach, Inside Higher Ed (30 May 2011) 

A Legitimate Place for Responsible Middlemen?

The reality, anathema to those who take a black/white view of a rather complex and strategically important issue, is that the majority of international students neither apply on their own to US colleges and universities nor do they turn to EducationUSA advising centers for help; rather they seek out education consultancies, or agents, for information and assistance.

As many in the field have observed, agents understand the local language and culture, and are in a position to establish long-term relationships. They come in all shapes and sizes, encompassing the good, the bad and the ugly. Referring to all three, Prof. Altbach, whom I greatly admire and respect as a mentor, former professor, and marquee name in the field, has apparently had a change of heart. He noted a few years ago in a New York Times interview that “There are a lot of bottom feeders out there,” but admitted that “In a globalized world, where some people need a lot of guidance to get here, there may be a legitimate place for responsible middlemen.” Responsible is the operative word here. 

What Mr. Bennett describes in his comment(s) is what good agents SHOULD be doing – finding the best possible match between a student’s qualifications, preferences, ability to pay and goals & a short list of colleges and universities – not chasing after commissions. Ultimately, “good” agents will be successful only if they “operate in the best interest of the student at all times.” That’s why they charge a reasonable service fee that covers their costs and includes net profit. “Bad” agents drive students to a select group of schools (i.e., their partners) in order to receive those all-important commissions. Some charge a fee and receive a commission, known as double-dipping. Yes, international education IS a business, albeit a non-profit one in most instances (e.g., the work of regionally accredited US schools) that yields untold benefits for individuals, institutions and societies. What Mr. Bennett sees when he “looks around the exhibit halls at most conferences” are ancillary services that attempt to meet individual and institutional client needs not the “over-commercialization of what we do.”

How the U.S. Can Stop Hindering Higher-Education Exports by Mitch Leventhal, The Chronicle of Higher Education (22 May 2011)

Mr. Leventhal’s essay is spot-on – “everyone must be at the table.” While I’m not optimistic about the prospects of establishing a national export council for higher education any time soon, I do believe that this movement is gaining momentum, and that with sufficient persuasion and pressure (more) good things will happen.

RE rogue providers: The happy and sad facts are that the US exports some of the world’s best and worst higher education. US-based or -affiliated unaccredited schools, at least 25 of which have entered the “Vietnam market,” are a stain on the generally sterling reputation of US higher education. How can students who attend a “school” like Tri-Valley be considered bona fide students? Why not draw the line at issuing student visas only to those who enroll in officially accredited higher education institutions? Why not put a nail in the coffin of rogue providers by denying them their main source of revenue and profit – international students who are either duped into attending or who are “partners in falsehood,” (i.e., know what they’re doing and hope to get away with it) as Alan Contreras, the administrator of the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization (ODA), once put it.

Both the accreditation and international agency-based recruitment issues are classic examples of a Jekyll and Hyde approach to policy-making and implementation.

Since the Department of Commerce is already actively promoting U.S. higher education as an export through its Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) offices in embassies and consulates around the world, including agent matchmaking through its Gold Key Service, why not take this one step further and add the function of agency certification to FCS’ portfolio using the AIRC (i.e., IDP) model – perhaps even in cooperation with AIRC?

As with the agency-based recruiting issue itself, this is not an either/or conundrum. Both EducationUSA advising centers and good (i.e., vetted) education consultancies can play a useful role in promoting US higher education and enabling institutions to recruit more international students, and advance their internationalization goals. This proposed solution would reconcile the Departments of State and Commerce and immeasurably benefit U.S. colleges and universities, as well as the students they wish to attract to their campuses and who the U.S. so desperately needs.

The faux moral crusade being waged by those who reject agency-based international student recruitment outright, rather than keeping evil at bay, is more akin to the proverbial ostrich with its head stuck in the sand, oblivious to the changing realities of transnational higher education and the rising cost of passivity. This entrenched unwillingness to consider viable alternatives that would benefit all parties reflects a vision deficit. As recent international student mobility patterns and trends have made abundantly clear, the time is long past for the U.S. to continue resting on its laurels.

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