International Education Agents and Student Satisfaction

The use of commissioned agents to recruit international students by United States higher education was banned until 2013 and is still intensely debated on whether this practice should be allowed. Yet in many other nations it is widely accepted. What do we know from the student perspective and their satisfaction level.

By Dean E. Hoke – Co-Founder Edu Alliance Ltd. and Managing Partner North America

The use of agents for student recruitment has been an area of interest to my firm Edu Alliance for the past few years. In our consulting work we were engaged by a United Arab Emirates client to review the use of agents for their institution, the fees charged and the success of the student once they entered the university.  We have been asked by a number of US universities about the agent system, whether Edu Alliance does such recruiting, which we do not, or if we recommend agents we believe are effective and trustworthy.

I recently read an interesting article in World Education News & Reviews on agent research by Megha Roy, Senior Research Associate, World Education Services (WES). 5,880 international students representing five regions and over 50 countries were surveyed and the goal of the research was to better understand their experiences with education agents. All survey recipients came from a pool of former WES applicants for foreign credential evaluation.

According to WES the research sought to uncover:

  • The prevalence of agent-use among WES applicants
  • The types of agents used (e.g., independent educational agents, who are paid by the students/families, versus institution-sponsored agents, who receive commissions from the U.S. institutions)[1]
  • How applicants interact with agents – how they pay them, what services they use when, their satisfaction levels, challenges, and more
  • Regional variations in agent use and type


The Key Finding of the student study stated:

1,336 student responded, 23 % used agents during the application process. Of those who use agents:

  • Eighty-three percent were satisfied with the services offered, and indicated that agents met their expectations. More than 75 percent agreed that agents provided useful information and valuable suggestions; more than 70 percent indicated that the expenses were reasonable.
  • Two thirds used independent education agents rather than institution sponsored agents.
  • Two-thirds of students who use institution-sponsored agents paid them. One in five paid them more than USD $1,000.
  • Top concerns among those who worked with independent agents focused on quality control; while top concerns among students who worked with sponsored-agents revolved around conflicts of interest. Specifically, students complained about misrepresentation of information about universities, untimely feedback, document fraud, unclear fee structures, false promises about guaranteed admission, and unrealistic expectations about on-campus jobs or scholarship opportunities.

41% of students in East Asia use Agents:Agent Use Trends by Region

In the United States, the use of commissioned agents in student recruitment was considered unethical by the National Association for College Admission Counseling and banned until 2013. After years of debate when they revised their position to permit institutions to commission recruitment agents abroad. Bridge Education Group in their 2016 reported nearly half of U.S. institutions directly or indirectly now use international agents. Additionally an additional 40% are considering using international agents.

However the Middle States Commission on Higher Education in 2017 proposed a policy prohibiting the institutions it accredits from providing financial compensation to international education agents. Whether this will becomes policy remains to be seen but it shows the use of commissioned agents is still under debate.

The view of Edu Alliance is that agents provide a needed service to students and to higher education institutions worldwide. However the school must be careful in whom they select and make sure to provide the same level of oversight you do with your staff admissions personnel.

If your institution is using or considering the use of agents I would recommend reading the full WES report to gain additional perspective. Its called: Decoding International Students’ Experiences with Education Agents: Insights for U.S. Institutions



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