Debate Over Paid Recruitment Agents Has Ended—for Now

Toronto — One long chapter has ended, but the book surely hasn’t been shut.

American colleges may pay commissions to international-student recruiters as long as those institutions follow specific guidelines, according to new rules approved by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC, here on Saturday. The new policy marks a shift for the association, which had long frowned upon the use of paid agents to recruit overseas.

By a vote of 152 to 47, the association’s governing body amended NACAC’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice, the voluntary ethical standards for member colleges and high schools. As amended, those rules now state that “if members choose to use incentive-based agents when working with international students outside the U.S., they will ensure accountability, transparency, and integrity.”

Saturday’s vote established a controversial dichotomy within NACAC’s policies, however. Under the approved amendment, the association’s members—which include colleges throughout the world—may “not offer or accept” payment for the recruitment of “students in the U.S.”

The new requirements will take effect following a one-year moratorium. During that time, two of the association’s committees plan to weigh the implications of the new rules. Those committees will also consider a shelved amendment that would permit foreign institutions to use paid agents when recruiting students who live in the United States.

In short, this debate will probably continue among the diverse members of this increasingly global organization. And if the past is a guide, the discussion will take ambiguous turns.

Just three months ago, for instance, a commission established by NACAC recommended that the association change its policies to state that members “should not” pay commissions when recruiting in other countries. Yet in its report, the commission also said colleges that do use agents should be transparent and follow strict accountability requirements.

Confused? For a thorough explanation of how this long and heated saga has unfolded, read this excellent article by my colleague Karin Fischer.

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