A Word on Admissions Agents
We’ve written in the past about admissions agents, people — often in countries such as China — who receive commissions from universities after the international students they recruit end up enrolling. America’s most highly selective colleges, of course, don’t offer commissions to such admissions agents. And why? Because they don’t need to incentivize people to encourage students to matriculate when international applicants apply in droves to America’s elite universities. It’s some of the less selective schools, schools that struggle with international enrollment, that offer such kickbacks to admissions agents.
In any case, in an editorial for Inside Higher Ed, Brian Whalen, the executive director of the American International Recruitment Council, defended admissions agents, writing in a piece entitled “Agents Aren’t the Problem,” “At a time when the United States seeks to rebuild international student enrollment and reassert its position as the leading destination for a high-quality education, we should not shrink from the responsibility of doing all that we can to ensure that students are provided with high-quality experiences throughout the educational life cycle, including during recruitment and enrollment. Rather than limit the tools that institutions have available to them to attract international students who are excellent matches for them, we need instead to bolster their efforts by setting and enforcing standards, providing training and education, and holding the field accountable.”
Oh but we beg to differ. The authors of Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, taught the world how we shouldn’t really fully trust real estate agents. And why? Because of reverse incentives. The more one spends on a house, the more that buyer’s agent makes in commission. The faster one sells a house, the quicker the seller’s agent gets their check. Similarly, as long as these admissions agents get kickbacks from colleges, they will always push students to attend these institutions even if these aren’t the right institutions for these students — even if, maybe, these students could do better. Counter to the argument of Mr. Whalen, no college should have all these recruitment tools at their disposal — namely, the ability to offer commissions to admissions agents luring international applicants to matriculate.
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