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25th Sep 2014

NACAC changes code of conduct to allow international agents; releases agent guide for US institutions

"In 1951, NACAC introduced a prohibition on incentive-based recruitment of students for all NACAC members," explains Eddie West, director of international initiatives at the National Association for College Admission Counselling (NACAC). Earlier this month, Mr West opened a special panel discussion – “International student recruitment strategy: assessing the use of commission-based agents” – at the annual NACAC conference in Indianapolis (18-20 September). The prohibition on education agents that Mr West refers to was originally enshrined in NACAC’s Code of Ethics, now known as the Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP), a document that effectively codifies the ethics and standards of conduct for the association. The past decade has seen an expansion of active international recruitment efforts on the part of a wider field of US institutions, and a corresponding increase in the use of education agents by some universities and colleges. This triggered a growing debate within NACAC about the standing prohibition in the SPGP and the extent to which it could or should apply to international recruitment. That debate was increasingly a subject of global interest in recent years as well. It culminated with the establishment of a Commission on International Student Recruitment within NACAC, which subsequently recommended to the NACAC Board that the association modify its official position on the use of international agents. In September 2013, the NACAC Assembly voted to modify the SPGP to permit the use of international agents, so long as institutions maintained transparency, accountability, and integrity in their dealings with commissioned representatives overseas.

The official amendment

Following that vote, the NACAC Admission Practices Committee was charged with the responsibility of “fleshing out” those key principles of transparency, accountability, and integrity and determining how they could best be reflected within the SPGP. Todd Rinehart, director of admissions at the University of Denver and chair of the NACAC Admission Practices Committee introduced the committee’s proposed amendments in Indianapolis. As Mr Rinehart explained, the committee’s deliberations resulted in a reframing of the proposed 2013 amendment to create a new Section I.A.4 within the SPGP. It reads in full: “I.A.4. All members agree they will not employ agents who are compensated on a per capita basis when recruiting students outside the United States, unless ensuring they and their agents conduct themselves with accountability, transparency and integrity; Members will: a. ensure institutional accountability by monitoring the actions of those commission-based agents acting on the institution’s behalf; b. ensure transparency with a conspicuous statement on their website that indicates their institution uses agents who are compensated on a per capita basis; c. ensure integrity by dealing ethically and impartially with applicants and other stakeholders, honoring commitments and acting in a manner that respects the trust and confidence placed in the institutions and the individuals representing them; d. adhere to US recruitment and remuneration laws (US Higher Education Act) for US citizens, where applicable; e. not contract with secondary school personnel for remunerations for referred students.” “Per capita compensation” indicates that agents are compensated, normally on commission, based on each student recruited. Mr Rinehart also noted that NACAC will place a moratorium on enforcement of the amendments until September 2015, in order to give US institutions the opportunity to put policies and processes in place for compliance. The amendments were voted and approved by the NACAC Assembly on September 20, 2014. Some observers, including Inside Higher Ed, have pointed out that the amendment quoted above frames the use of agents in more negative terms than did the wording approved by the NACAC Assembly in 2013. “While the language approved by the NACAC Assembly last year reads that ‘Members who choose to use incentive-based agents when recruiting students outside the US will ensure accountability, transparency and integrity,’ [the now-approved amendment states] that members will ‘not employ agents who are compensated on a per capita basis when recruiting students outside the United States, unless ensuring they and their agents conduct themselves with accountability, transparency, and integrity.’”

A new guide for universities and colleges

The process of framing and reframing the SPGP amendment is a result of the varying perspectives within NACAC that the association must balance as it works to reflect emerging practices, including appropriate and effective engagement with education agents, within its code of conduct. In a further illustration of this careful balance, the NACAC International Advisory Committee also released a new guide for the association’s 13,000+ members – ''International student recruitment agencies: a guide for schools, colleges and universities'' – on the eve of this year’s conference. The guide is meant to expand and illustrate the key principles of accountability, transparency, and integrity in the SPGP amendment, and it unpacks each of these core concepts in some detail. The introduction of the guide sets out that, “Should an institution decide to work with international student recruitment agencies, the following steps should be taken to ensure accountability, transparency and integrity:

  • Consult with critical campus constituents to address campus impacts.
  • Develop a unified or coordinated institutional policy concerning international student recruitment agencies.
  • Communicate the institution’s agency policy to international students and their families, via the institution’s website.
  • Develop a contract, involving campus legal counsel, risk management and affiliated departments.
  • Identify and vet prospective agency contractors.
  • Commit to delivering regular trainings and other elements of rigorous, continual quality assurance.
  • Provide international student support services commensurate with the expected growth and diversification in enrolments.”

The NACAC guide is otherwise designed to help US universities engage effectively with international agents and includes considerable background on recruitment agencies, identifying and vetting prospective agents, contracts and other legal considerations, training and supporting agents, and other best practices. Mr West says of the new guide, "NACAC felt it was important to produce a resource that would promote best practices among institutions working with international student recruitment agencies, and one that included tangible steps schools could take to safeguard students' interests, as well as their own. Absent a strong regulatory framework in the US - home to the majority of NACAC members - we believe individual institutions bear special responsibility to ensure they're doing all they can in this regard. Ultimately we hope the guide and our future efforts contribute to an ongoing and global conversation about quality assurance in international student recruitment, admissions, and support." He notes as well that NACAC has a number of related initiatives upcoming in the months ahead.

  • In November or December of this year, the association will offer a webinar for US institutions on working with agents, with a particular focus on related legal issues.
  • Also later this fall, it will begin to circulate samples of agent contracts and other relevant documents among its members.
  • In early 2015, NACAC will also publish a resource guide for international students and parents to educate them about working with education agents.

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