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

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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!

MAA