Weighing Ethical Issues in International Recruitment

In a guest post, Philip A. Ballinger, assistant vice president for enrollment and director of admissions at the University of Washington, and David A. Hawkins, director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, describe the progress of the Commission on International Student Recruitment. Mr. Ballinger is the commission’s chairman.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Commission on International Student Recruitment, which first met in March 2012, continues to work through its charge to provide recommendations to the association about the ethical recruitment of international students, as well as key policy considerations for students and institutions. Given the complexity of the international field and the varying needs and resources of concerned institutions, commission members appreciate how good people can differ greatly in their views and conclusions.

After the first meeting, commission members also realized that the breadth and variety of information and topics were too much for the commission to tackle as a single body. So we began to divide up the tasks via topic-based working groups, which convened over the summer. The work of each of these groups will inform a good deal of the commission’s conversations during its gathering this week, in Denver. Here are four key themes the commission is considering.

Context matters. The two government panels at the commission’s March meeting made clear that simple comparisons between countries using agents, such as Australia or the United Kingdom, and the United States would be insufficient to allow the commission to make an informed recommendation to NACAC. One of the commission’s subgroups is therefore examining the similarities and differences in the approaches of government and postsecondary institutions in several countries based on existing cultural, diplomatic, and regulatory contexts in each. The goal is to establish a better understanding of what would be needed to make more parallel comparisons between the contexts in which Australian, British, and American institutions are situated.

Commissions and “malpractice.” How do we define “malpractice” in postsecondary recruiting? How widespread are instances of malpractice in international recruitment? Does the payment of commissions, in and of itself, increase the likelihood that malpractice will occur? Those questions, which may be viewed as central to NACAC’s policy inquiry, are being taken up by a second group. The output from this group will form the foundation upon which the commission will ultimately construct its guidance to NACAC as it considers the existing ban, based on the ”Statement of Principles of Good Practice,” on commission payments for recruitment.

Agents and institutional arrangements. Understanding the specifics of institutional contracts with agents, as well as agency services for students and families, is another area of interest for the commission. A third subgroup has been given the task of collecting information about agency practices, institutional arrangements with agencies, and institutional processes for overseeing agency-based recruitment as well as institutionally based recruitment. During the March meeting, the institutional obligation to ensure the integrity of recruitment efforts overseas emerged as a clear theme.

Outcomes matter. Commission members generally agree that student outcomes are paramount in this debate. A fourth subgroup has been formed to examine what initially appears to be relatively limited research in this field, particularly for those students who have worked with agents. The group will also attempt to articulate key elements that should be present in future research on the subject.

What can be concluded so far is limited. Clearly, the realities of international student recruitment are not static. Additionally, American institutions are still evolving in their understanding of how their recruitment and admission practices interact with various contexts in other countries. One theme that may be emerging is that of transparency. Whatever recommendations may come from the commission, institutions and their various forms of agency will arguably serve students better—and better avoid undesirable practices and outcomes—by being more transparent with students and their families about relationships and their associated costs and transactional agreements.

Mr. Ballinger and Mr. Hawkins will discuss the commission’s work during a session on Friday afternoon.

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