Reflections on the State of Innovative International Recruitment

The following is an entry in a series of blog posts written by InnovateEDU speakers intended to give a preview of what you’ll learn at  InnovateEDU 2014.

Almost anyone who has been watching this space knows that there has been a heating up of interest in agency recruitment and pathway programs as a means to building international enrollment and meeting other strategic objectives. Exactly one year ago the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reversed its long-standing prohibition on member institutions (nearly all U.S. colleges and universities) from utilizing commission-based international student recruitment agencies. This development has been long awaited, and signals a major opportunity for traditional academic institutions, private providers and a range of intermediary service companies.

In an industry not known for sudden change or innovation, this change – brought about following just a mere five years of public debate – has been breathtakingly quick, and suddenly a large number of previously cautious institutions are wading in up to their knees, sometimes ill-prepared and often without a full understanding of the managerial changes and new business logic that must be built into their processes to ensure long-term success. These institutions need help, whether they know it or not. Unfortunately, many institutions will discover their internal deficiencies the hard way by 'going it alone' rather than entering into partnerships with ground-level service providers.   

This change which has recently occurred was hard-fought – in fact, the debate often became quite heated and personal. But the changes came, and they came as a result of a small but vocal group of university administrators – primarily centered in Ohio – who believed that existing practices were constraining the ability of U.S. institutions to compete globally for students.

Informed by the debate that had taken place in Australia in the mid-1980s, American university leaders (including this author) determined that the only way to overcome entrenched opposition would be to 'beat them at their own game' – in this case, that meant creating an unassailable process to vet and certify agencies, modeled on U.S. higher education accreditation, and controlled by U.S. accredited post-secondary institutions. This was the genesis of the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC), which has emerged as the leading proponent of industry self-regulation and professionalization of agency recruitment (not excluding recruitment within institutions and by pathway providers, as well).

Now supported by over 200 U.S. institutions, AIRC quickly established a head of steam, grew its institutional membership base to more than 200 institutions, and developed a framework which was too compelling to ignore. The NACAC organization lifted its ban, stating that "Members who choose to use incentive-based agents when recruiting students outside the U.S. will ensure accountability, transparency and integrity."  So, as I write this, the conversation is not fully over. In the coming weeks, we can expect NACAC to announce its next steps.

AIRC has demonstrated its real capacity to move national policy in the area of international recruitment, and there is no reason to believe that its influence will wane in the coming years. With the complexity of globalization, there is no doubt that AIRC's standards will evolve, and it will be an increasingly important bridge between institutions, private providers and intermediary enterprises. AIRC also has the potential to focus attention on the dire need for a U.S. higher education export policy, comparable to those of the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. This will not happen until the Departments of State, Commerce, Education and Homeland Security sit at the same table and hammer out their profound differences over the importance of global recruitment and its acceptable modalities.  

For a much more detailed account, download the full paper, "Disruptive Innovation: The History of Development of the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC)" by Mitch Leventhal and Josep Rota.

To learn more about international student mobility and marketing strategy, register to hear Mitch and other InnovateEDU speakers, downtown Kansas City, September 23-25.


Mitch Leventhal is Academic Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Shorelight Education, and is Professor of Professional Practice & Entrepreneurship at SUNY University at Albany. An international leader in the area of global higher education management, Dr. Leventhal has been an advocate for reform of U.S. recruiting practice, development of new financing paradigms in support of internationalization, creation of improved technical systems to support comprehensive internationalization, and deeper and more creative approaches to engagement with corporate partners.

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