The Education Agent Issue in the US: Like a Bad Penny

bad pennyIt’s reminiscent of those trick candles that delight children and adults alike.  (OK, some adults.)  You blow them out and they continue to relight themselves – like magic!  While the US was late to the agent debate, actions that have been taken to date, while most would agree represent progress, have clearly not assuaged everyone’s concerns about the academic well-being of students who are, or should be, after all, front and center for those of us who are involved in educational advising.  

With the recent Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) draft policy (PDF), which would prohibit its accredited institutions from using incentive-based compensation in international student recruitment, it appears that “it ain’t over till it’s over” regarding this contentious issue.

MSCHE, which accredits 525 institutions in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C., has essentially chosen to extend the Title IV restrictions on incentive-based compensation that apply to domestic student recruitment to international students.

msche logoAside from being a shot across the bow of supporters of agency-based recruitment, what are the practical implications of this policy move?  Will it make a difference?  Is this rule binding?  Probably not, but MSCHE-accredited institutions would be well-advised to follow it lest an infraction become a sticking point in their (re)accreditation.  Will the other regional accrediting agencies follow in MSCHE’s regulatory footsteps?  Only time will tell. (Regional accreditation is the gold standard of institutional accreditation in the US.)

Once again, this raises a fundamental question that advocates of commission-based recruitment tend to ignore, or believe can be addressed with band-aid solutions that often amount to nothing more than window dressing.  Is it even possible to regulate this often shady global industry?  Stay tuned!


3 thoughts on “The Education Agent Issue in the US: Like a Bad Penny

  1. As someone who works for an MSCHE-accredited institution, I was actually annoyed by the announcement of this draft policy. When I heard about it, my response was, “Again? Seriously?”

    Honestly, MSCHE is late to the game. The train has definitely left the station when it comes to working with agents (though, admittedly, my institution only lets its IEP pay commissions to agents). While there are definitely agents out there who do not keep their students’ best interests at heart, I have had the good fortune in my career to have worked with a few gems who really “get it.” They are invaluable partners who help us to better prepare and serve our students and their families.

    I hope that MSCHE gets so much pushback from this announcement that they just drop it. The focus instead should be on how best to suppose these relationships so that agents are always trained, up-to-date, and in a position to provide the best possible service to students and schools (and vice-versa!).

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Nadia. While I agree the train has left the station and that MSCHE is late to the game, there’s no statute of limitations on criticism of agency-based recruitment and 2) there’s no reason that substantive improvements can’t be made to the quality of its long journey. 🙂 It’s true that there are “good” and “bad” agents with most falling into the latter category, I’m afraid.

      What if there were a model that institutions could follow that would ensure that the agents they work view the students they work with as clients and not the partner institutions that pay them a per head commission? A model that’s both ethical and makes sense from a financial standpoint.


      • P.S.: Some of the pushback has been from people who have a financial interest in commission-based recruitment. That doesn’t count. 🙂


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