Accreditor Proposes Ban on Paying Recruiters of International Students

A regional accreditor is considering a policy change that would bar colleges in its region from paying commissions to agents to recruit international students.

The accreditor, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, would block colleges in five mid-Atlantic states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, from giving “incentive payment” to recruiters “based on [their] success in securing student enrollment or financial aid.” According to a draft of the proposal, the policy would apply to both institutional and independent recruiters and in both domestic and international admissions.

The latter point is key: Federal financial-aid law has long prohibited the payment of commissions for the recruitment of American students. But international students are ineligible for government aid programs, so some colleges have used paid recruiters overseas.

In fact, the practice has increased significantly in the last decade as American colleges have become more aggressive in recruiting abroad. But it’s not been without controversy. While supporters of the practice say local agents can help guide students and families through an unfamiliar admissions process, critics deride their hiring as unethical.

In 2013 a panel created by the National Association for College Admission Counseling attempted to split the difference, expressing “healthy concern” about commission-based recruiting, while allowing the practice to continue internationally. The full organization voted to approve that policy later in the same year, seemingly putting to rest the issue of incentive compensation. Until now.

The American International Recruitment Council, a group that sets standards for and accredits overseas recruiters, has 57 members in the Middle States region. The association’s executive director, Mike Finnell, said he was concerned about the effect of the proposed change, particularly as many colleges gird for a potential dropoff in international enrollments.

The accreditor is accepting comments on the draft policy through April 17.

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