An influential college-admissions association is seeking to end the increasingly common practice among colleges of paying international recruiters based on how many foreign students they deliver.
Many colleges and universities use overseas agents to recruit international students rather than relying solely on their own admission staffs, according to a 2010 survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Often, those schools pay agents commissions tied to the number of students they recruit, a tactic that many admissions officers call questionable.
A growing number of schools pay commissions for international recruits, including George Mason University in Virginia, the State University of New York system, Ohio University and Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Incentive compensation, as it is called, creates a temptation for recruiters “to ignore the student interest” in college applications, the admissions group said in a position statement issued last month. The practice “invites complications involving misrepresentation, conflict of interest, and fraud at the expense of the student,” the statement said.
The trend began in the past decade as universities struggled to keep up in a fierce global contest for top international students, who can bring brainpower, money and worldliness to the schools they attend. International students are particularly coveted by public universities, where they pay two or three times the tuition charged to state residents.
George Mason pays $2,500 for every enrolled student recruited by IDP Education, an Australian firm that claims to be the world’s largest international student recruiter. IDP’s other clients include Rutgers.
“Many potential international students have very limited access to a traditional system of college access, so networks of international counselors are important to expanding access,” George Mason officials said in a statement. “Compensation for individuals who conduct that counseling is a sensitive and complex subject, and no one institution or organization should treat it lightly.”
Greg Trevor, a Rutgers spokesman, said the university is “evaluating its relationship with IDP” in light of the admissions group’s statement against commissions.
Federal regulations, tightened last year, forbid incentive-based recruiting with domestic students. The rule excludes international students, who do not qualify for federal aid.
But the admissions association said it has concerns about the spread of agents and commissions in international recruiting.
In its May statement, the association proposed adding language to its list of “mandatory practices” that would ban commissions to overseas agents. The association’s governing board will act on the proposal after a period of comment and discussion, probably by September, said David Hawkins, its director of public policy and research.
The Arlington County-based association represents many of the nation’s four-year colleges. If the rule against incentive compensation is adopted, those schools would be “honor-bound” to follow it, Hawkins said.
Most colleges have few, if any, employees devoted to international recruiting, and sending workers abroad can get expensive. Many schools have turned instead to agents, who typically set up shop overseas and refer students to U.S. universities for a fee. Many agents charge the student a fee, as well.
SUNY has used recruiters “minimally” and paid them one-tenth of the first-year tuition collected from each international recruit, said Mitch Leventhal, vice chancellor for global affairs at the state university system.
“International students who come into our system obviously have all kinds of benefits,” Leventhal said, which include a boost to the New York economy as students and their families visit and spend, and the long-term contributions of students who settle in the United States.
The American International Recruitment Council, based in Bethesda, was formed in 2008 to develop professional standards for agents and the colleges that hire them. Its members include SUNY and Syracuse University.
John Deupree, its executive director, said higher education should focus on upholding those standards rather than shut down the commission system.
“Incentive compensation works when handled properly,” Deupree said in an e-mail. “The right way is by having the agencies prove their worth by sending qualified applicants and rewarding them for finding an applicant that is a right fit for an institution based on the institution’s own criteria and needs.”