Information for Potential Foreign Students

Admissions group calls on colleges to require recruiting agents to disclose their financial ties to those they are seeking to recruit.

September 26, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Three years ago, the Assembly of the National Association for College Admission Counseling approved a change to its ethical standards to permit the use of commissioned agents in the recruitment of students outside the United States. The vote followed years of debate over the practice, which is controversial in part because federal law bars such commissions in the United States.

On Saturday, the NACAC Assembly approved a measure that would seek more information from agents and colleges about their use. The measure adds two best practices to NACAC's Statement of Principles of Good Practice, the organization's ethics code:

  • Colleges that use agents should "require those representatives to disclose to their student clients all institutions who are compensating them."
  • In colleges' promotional materials for international students, "institutions should offer to verify whether they have authorized any third party agents to represent them and indicate how students may request this verification."

The intent of the measure is to deal with what some in admissions see as a conflict of interest in the way agents interact with students. In the United States, guidance counselors or private counselors who advise students and families receive no money from colleges and universities, so there is no potential financial incentive to recommend one college over another. Many agents abroad, however, receive some of their compensation based on enrollment decisions, and these agents typically only work for some colleges. So the concern is that they may push some institutions over others without the international student knowing of the financial conflict.

Jon Westover, senior associate director of freshman admissions at Jonathan Law High School, in Connecticut, said at the Assembly that he viewed the measure as "a foundation on which we can build" and said that he wished that there was enough support to make these measures a required practice as opposed to a best practice (essentially just recommended).

He said that the measure sent a “message of integrity and transparency."

When NACAC changed its rules to permit the use of agents, and in discussions leading up to that vote, debate was intense and at times contentious.

In contrast, no one spoke against the best practices proposal Saturday, and it was approved by a vote of 194 to 8.

Privately, some NACAC members who are critical of the use of agents said they viewed the measure as well meaning, but unlikely to lead to serious changes in practice. They noted that it was not mandatory and that many agents work without much supervision by the American colleges that hire them.


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