The use and compensation of commissioned agents to recruit students from outside the United States has been debated at length in recent years.  On September 21, 2013, the debate took its latest turn when the Assembly of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) voted to approve a change to its ethical standards that would allow member colleges and universities to use commissioned agents to recruit students outside the United States.

The use of such agents has been divisive in recent years given arguable conflicts of interest that result from the prevailing practice of compensating them based on the success of their efforts (through tuition sharing or per capita payments based on enrollment). As a result, opponents had at times advocated a complete ban on the practice – in 2011, the NACAC Board had proposed a policy prohibiting incentive-based recruiting in the international context; that proposal was withdrawn following subsequent protest, and NACAC pronouncements have generally disfavored, but not prohibited, the practice.

As amended, NACAC’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice provides that member institutions will “not offer or accept any reward or remuneration from a secondary school, college, university, agency or organization for placement or recruitment of students in the United States.” Member institutions using such agents outside the United States are admonished to “ensure accountability, transparency, and integrity” in their agent relationships. The prohibition on the use of commissioned agents to recruit within the United States does not necessarily represent an independent value judgment by NACAC, as the practice is already prohibited under the United States Department of Education’s Title IV program integrity rules, specifically 34 CFR § 668.14(b)(22)(i).

The new standard will become effective following a one-year moratorium during which NACAC will consider its implications and, potentially, propose further refinements. Some colleges and universities have refrained from enlisting overseas recruiting agents pending NACAC guidance, and the delayed effectiveness of the amendment may cause some of these institutions to continue to wait. However, others may proceed, as many of their peers have already done given the nonbinding nature of prior NACAC pronouncements on the topic. In any event, a college or university that chooses to use agents to conduct foreign recruiting activities should take steps (including obtaining binding contractual commitments) to ensure that the agents conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the institution’s mission and values, and that there is appropriate recourse if an agent fails to do so.