by Mark Sklarow, CEO, Independent Educational Consultants Association
I have served the last two years on the NACAC Commission charged with examining the long-standing, but often ignored, prohibition against compensation on a per-head basis for referring students. It was a relief to see the issue voted upon last week, and to hear the kudos given to the Commission for the thoroughness of our efforts. The Commission’s work has ended. But for the International Advisory Committee and NACAC member colleges, the hard part is just beginning. The coming year will be critical, as guidelines are developed while a moratorium on using commissioned agents is in place.
First, what NACAC approved: As recommended by the Commission, the prohibition against using any commissioned payments remains in force when it comes to students who are U.S. citizens and all those studying in this country. While it lifts the ban against such compensation for overseas recruitment, NACAC will urge colleges NOT to engage in the practice. Simply put, the Commission found that using such compensation can lead to corruptions in the admission process, many of which have been highlighted by the press: contrived transcripts, ghost-written essays, steering unsuspecting students to undesired colleges, and worse. So, if colleges decide commissioned agents is the route they wish to go (and about 25% of them are already doing so), all sides must assure the integrity and openness of the agreements, the process, and the compensation.
It was interesting to observe the discussion in the NACAC Assembly. From my seat in the gallery, I heard the assurance used more than 30 times during statements—by those who support the use of international agents—not to worry, that U.S. students were to be “protected” from the practice. I couldn’t help but think that “protecting” U.S. students from something we are about to authorize internationally meant we were willing to leave those students globally, who lack even basic information about the American educational system, exposed and unprotected.
That is why I say the critical work begins now. Over this coming year some colleges will begin exploring alternative ways to recruit internationally. There are many approaches that do not flirt with unethical practices. We found the services of EducationUSA were grossly underused by colleges, yet with offices around the world they could be a valuable resource to many. Increasingly, schools in China and other countries are discovering the value of a guidance counselor—unheard of until recently. It would be wonderful if NACAC helped to develop guidelines and training so that school-based counselors overseas were available to students, rendering the need for agents less necessary. Consortia of colleges of a similar type or region could join together to support regional recruiters whose salaries are set, not commissioned. And we know, first-hand, that the number of Independent Educational Consultants is growing quickly around the world. If the last five years saw the ascension of agents in Asia, the recent discrediting of their methods is likely to give way to the growing value of an IEC. Consider colleges who are constantly dealing with fraudulent records, and students arriving on campus with no discernible English abilities but sent by agents seeking a big payoff. Imagine the family shame when those students are sent back. All sides are now welcoming the emergence of IECs globally with the same standards, knowledge, and ethics that IECA requires from those working domestically.
Additional work awaits the NACAC International Advisory Committee. What does transparency mean in the real world? Will colleges employing commissioned agents have to state on their websites, in clear and concise language, that all agents recruiting for them around the world are rewarded with $5,000 bonuses if they get your student to attend their college, and are stiffed if the student chooses the college next door? Will agents be required to explain why they charge the family and then take the commission—double dipping if you will? Will someone require agents to state that they won’t “create transcripts, letters of recommendation, and student essays” as is now assumed?
From the opening session of the Commission, through teleconferences, to our final emailed comments, we continually stated our desire to put the interests of students ahead of all else. What happens in the coming year—and with it a firm resolve to require compliance—will make all the difference.