“Ethical agents should support direct student admissions”

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Students occasionally ask one co-author, who has lived and worked in Viet Nam since 2005, whether or not they can apply directly. The answer is an enthusiastic ‘Yes’, if they feel sufficiently confident.

The original working title, Imagine a World Without Agents, We Wonder If You Can – with a grateful nod to John Lennon – was probably too long, which is why the editor changed it to Ethical agents should support direct student admissions.  (Yes, Imagine was intended to be provocative but not clickbait. :-)) 

Actually, Eddie West and I are referring not only to agents but to everyone involved in international student recruitment.  While direct application is not for everyone, as we point out, it is a positive trend we see in Viet Nam and elsewhere among certain types of students.

This article is the third in a trilogy about what we identify as the “fatal flaw” in commissions-based recruitment.  The other two – in descending chronological order – are as follows:

International recruitment – Are education agents welcome? (8.3.19)

An ethical approach to commissions-based recruitment (26.10.18)

We’ll be discussing these issues at NAFSA at two events, the first an unofficial seminar and the second a general session.  Follow this link for more information, including online registration for the two seminars.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Commissions-Based International Student Recruitment Agents: Is There a Better Way?

Wednesday, May 29, 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

 

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If you’re planning to attend the 2019 annual conference of NAFSA:  Association of International Educators in Washington, D.C. and you’re interested in this topic, mark your conference calendar!  

Join me, Eddie West, session chair and Executive Director, International Programs, University of California-Berkeley Extension, and Mayumi Kowta, Director, International Programs California State University Channel Islands, for a lively discussion about how the “fatal flaw” in commissions-based recruitment can be addressed.  For more information about this, check out a 10-18 article that Eddie and I wrote, An ethical approach to commissions-based recruitment.  

Follow this link to see the official conference description of our session, including the abstract (also below) and the learning objectives.  

More colleges and universities are contracting with commissions-based student recruitment agents than ever before. This development is great news for agents, and mostly good news for their partner schools. But for students being advised by agents the experience encompasses the good, the bad, and the ugly. Can we do better?

Shalom (שלום), MAA

 

Unofficial, Pre-Conference Seminar About Commissions-Based Recruitment @ NAFSA 2019

 Ethical Commissions-Based Recruitment:  The Need for a New Way

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Join Mark Ashwill, managing director and co-founder of Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company in Viet Nam and former country director of the Institute of International Education-Viet Nam,

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Eddie West, assistant dean, UC Berkeley Extension, and executive director, international programs, and former director of international initiatives at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC),

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and Lindsay Addington, director of global engagement at NACAC, for a lively discussion and exploration of ways to improve upon the current flawed model of agency-based international student recruitment. 

The brief presentation and discussion are based on this statement, which Ashwill and West made in an October 2018 University World News article entitled An ethical approach to commissions-based recruitment

The fatal flaw in commissioned recruitment is that most agents prioritise their partner schools’ interests over those of the students and parents they advise. This means that most guide or, in many cases, drive students to their partner schools because of the gold (commission) at the end of the rainbow (enrolment process). 

[The second co-authored article in a three-part series was published on 8 March, also by University World NewsInternational recruitment – Are education agents welcome?]

The purpose of this seminar is not to debate the merits of commissions-based recruitment but to bring together colleagues who are interested in exploring ways in which it can be made more ethical to the benefit of international students and their parents, in addition to admitting institutions and education agents. 

This special event will be held from 3:30-5 p.m. on Monday, May 27, 2019 in downtown Washington, D.C.  (The exact location will be sent to all confirmed participants.) 

The seminar is free of charge and refreshments will be served. Online registration is required.

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A heartfelt thanks to Study in the USA for its sponsorship! 

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Related Announcement:  Eddie West, Mark Ashwill, and Mayumi Kowta will talk about Commissions-Based International Student Recruitment Agents: Is There a Better Way? at a general session from 10-11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 29 at NAFSA 2019.  

International recruitment – Are education agents welcome?

ed agents welcome where (uwn)

This is the second in a series of co-authored articles about commissions-based recruitment of international students.  The other co-author is Eddie West, executive director of international programs at UC Berkeley Extension. Previously, he served as director of international initiatives at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Eddie blogs at International Education Insights.

The first article, entitled An ethical approach to commissions-based recruitment, was published last October, also by University World News.  The last in this trilogy is about, gasp!, international students bypassing education agents and applying directly to educational institutions.  Imagine that!  We not only do but will discuss specific examples of students applying on their own and why.  

On an editorial note, the original working title was Education Agents Welcome Where?, a play on the #YouAreWelcomeHere hashtag and the statements made last December by US State Department officials about welcoming education agents.  (The editor changed the title to one that makes it easier for people looking for the article online.)  

The debate is far from over, much to the dismay of the pro-agent crowd, so stay tuned!  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Direct Applications on the Rise

education-agentsWhile Viet Nam is still primarily an agent-driven market, growing numbers of students are beginning to bypass education agents and apply directly to educational institutions, especially for certain types of institutions and programs with simpler application procedures.  In some cases, more than 50% of all apps are directly from students.

The reasons for this recent trend are increased access to information, both on- and offline, more confidence, and greater sophistication.  Given the quality and ethical problems that plague many education agents, the more Vietnamese students (and international students, in general) who apply directly, the better.  

There are some students who don’t require the services of an education agent, thereby saving money and sparing both student and parent the potential aggravation of working with dodgy agents.  They include academically talented students who have done their homework, so to speak, and know which institutions they want on their short list, as well as those who know exactly which school they want to attend because of their participation in a fair, info session, or based on a recommendation from someone they trust, e.g., a parent, teacher, or friend. 

This is an encouraging win-win trend, in my opinion, that should be promoted.  It gives students and parents more control over the entire process, eliminates the need to work with an agent, many of whom do not have students’ (and parents’) best interests at heart, and saves admitting institutions the cost of a commission.  What’s not to like?     

Peace, MAA

How Many Students Will You Send Us?

globeI occasionally receive inquiries from colleagues asking me how many students will I refer to their institutions by a certain term, i.e., semester or quarter.  The assumption behind the question is that the company I work for, Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company, follows the traditional agent model of student recruitment. 

In fact, we have our own unique model that views students and parents as clients not partner institutions that happen to pay a per head commission.  This means we don’t drive, or pressure, students to attend a partner school but rather look for “best fit” schools, regardless of their status.

If a student ends up attending a partner institution, we refund our fee to the parents because we receive a commission later.  If s/he enrolls in a non-partner school, we retain the fee because that’s how we get paid for the service.  It’s an ethical approach to educational advising that also makes financial sense. 

That’s part of the answer.

educated consumerAnother is that growing numbers of Vietnamese students are applying directly to certain types of educational institutions, thereby bypassing educational consulting companies.  This is a positive trend that I applaud.  (It includes students who attend Capstone events.)  More power to them, in my opinion.  It reminds me of a slogan from a now defunct US discount retail clothing store chain, SYMS, that was ingrained in my memory, thanks to persistent and pervasive marketing:  An Educated Consumer is our Best Customer

MAA

Of Dogs, Fleas, & the Occasionally Dirty Business of International Student Recruitment

A Deal with the Devil aka Partners in Unethical Behavior?

quote-he-that-lieth-down-with-dogs-shall-rise-up-with-fleas-benjamin-franklin-35-31-10Discussions about the use of commission-based recruitment and international student recruitment in general are often couched in black and white terms.  The former refers to the unethical business practices of many education agents whose overriding goal is money, and lots of it as quickly as possible, by hook or by crook.  The latter refers to institutional colleagues who are generally assumed to be above the fray and often the victims of unscrupulous and nefarious agents. 

It may not be “breaking news”,” but it’s certainly underreported news that quite a few education colleagues are not choosy about their partners as long as the student pipeline flows freely.  The end justifies the means, in other words.  In the spirit of “it takes two to tango,” they cross that tainted line as soon as they decide to work with a particular company,  in spite of having proof of wrongdoing on the part of said company. 

Since such agents recruit students in a way that puts partner schools’ interests first, students are not always well-informed about the admitting institution and therefore not always pleased with what they discover.  (This of course is one of the fundamental flaws of traditional commission-based recruitment.)

This can result in lackluster student retention and negative word-of-mouth advertising, which reflect poorly on both the school and the agent.  That’s the long-term view.  The short-term end result is that the institution gets its student(s) and the agent gets its commission(s). 

Aside from agents, there are other education companies for whom cheating is a way of doing business.  An example I’ve cited in the past is one foreign company that essentially bribed students to attend its fair by offering a cash payment to each attendee who brought a friend. That clearly crossed the line from incentive to bribe, wouldn’t you agree?

Those colleagues who choose to work with unethical education agents are co-conspirators, no better than their partners in crime, conjuring up the image evoked by this instructive and timeless quote from Benjamin Franklin:  He that lieth down with dogs, shall rise up with fleas.  Best to avoid the dogs and therefore the fleas.

MAA