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Agents and International Student Recruitment

NACAC Brief Agents Card

For some secondary schools, colleges, and universities, partnering with commissioned agents—individuals paid on a per capita basis—to recruit international students is part of a multifaceted plan. Commissioned agents allow institutions to establish a local presence in strategic regions abroad, and to meet growing enrollment targets, oftentimes with limited budgets. However, NACAC maintains a healthy concern with this strategy. Despite the benefits, there are inherent risks to students and institutions.

NACAC has been closely monitoring the use of commission-based agents by US higher education institutions for nearly a decade, leading up to NACAC’s Commission on International Student Recruitment, which first convened in 2011. In recent years, NACAC has collected more detailed information about agents on the annual Admission Trends and Counseling Trends surveys, including their role in secondary schools, to better understand the impact on the college admission counseling process

Key findings from recent survey results include:

Postsecondary Institutions

  • About 36 percent of respondents to NACAC’s 2017-18 Admission Trends Survey reported that they use commission-based agents and another 27 percent were actively considering the practice. More selective institutions were less likely to use agents.
  • Among survey respondents that used agents (n=57), 39 percent rated them as considerably important to the recruitment of international students, and an additional 36 percent found them to be moderately important.
  • Since 2015-16, more colleges have adopted practices to strengthen their work with agents, including providing training manuals and/or in-person training sessions, as well as regularly assessing the students recruited by agents.

Secondary Schools

  • For the 2017-18 academic year, only nine percent of secondary schools reported having a written policy that outlines whether and how school-based counselors should engage with agents hired by students and their families.
  • Levels of awareness of student/agent relationships varied by school type, with 72 percent of counselors at private, non-parochial schools reporting awareness of student relationships with agents, compared to 52 percent at private, parochial, and only 13 percent at public schools.
  • Among counselors who were aware of student/agent relationships, a third reported that more than 50 percent of international students were working with agents.

Download the research brief.

Commissioned Agents and NACAC's Code of Ethics Series provides guidance on the responsible use of commissioned agents in international student recruitment.

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