The long-awaited NACAC recommendation on the use of commissioned-based agents in recruiting international students has arrived!

The Question

Can IHEs (institutions of higher education) in America use commission-based agents to recruit international students?

The Answer

Technically Yes (but highly discouraged by the commission)

The Recommendation

A ban on commission-based international recruitment is a “best practice,” but not mandatory. Institutions that go against this best practice will be required to implement a series of strict requirements for transparency, integrity, and institutional accountability.


The Commission on International Student Recruitment was convened last year following a strong response to a 2011 proposal to ban commission-based recruitment of international students. Such a ban already exists for domestic students under the federal Higher Education Act, and opponents of agent-use has argued that this prohibition should be extended to protect students abroad.

However, proponents argue that US schools will fall behind those countries that do allow the use of commission-based agents, such as UK and Australia, which are top, competing destinations for international students. [For a closer look at the agent debate, take a look at this great infographic.]

Many Cautions Despite Shift

Despite the shift on agents in the report, numerous members of the panel have voiced their opposition to the use of commission-based recruitment. Mark Skarlow of IECA, while endorsing the final recommendations, cautions that schools “will need to ensure that students and families understand the financial incentives that underlie what had looked on its surface as a counseling relationship.”

“Universities seeking highly qualified applicants today have many alternatives to paying commissions,” Skarlow says. “And these alternative paths are growing, and come with far fewer ethical encumbrances than commission payments.”

Philip Ballinger, the chair of the commission and and assistant vice president for enrollment and director of admissions at the University of Washington, said in an interview that “[w]e don’t think this [commission-based recruitment] is a path that institutions should pursue.” Institutions that do pursue it, he says, will have to be very intentional on transparency and institutional responsibility in order to ensure the welfare of the student and the welfare of the institution.

The panel’s report was released on June 13th, and will be forwarded to the NACAC Board of Directors and membership for a final decision. The entire report can be found here.

[Related: 7.12.13 In the Recruitment-Agent Debate, a Case for Full Disclosure, by Karin Fischer, filing from OACAC 2013 – the annual conference of the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling.]

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