Ds Scholarship

Agents contribute to American higher education (opinion)

A recent opinion by Philip Altbach and Lise Risberg uses such a broad brush that it paints a highly imprecise picture of how educational agencies partner with institutions to recruit international students. The authors mischaracterize the people and organizations that work hard every day to provide quality educational opportunities for international students seeking to pursue their education in the United States.

Over the past year, I have served as Executive Director of the American International Employment Council, AIRC, which was founded in 2008 as a non-profit membership association, and is recognized by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as the Standards Development Organization – SDO – in the field of international registration management. My experience working with AIRC tells a much different story about the value, character, and effectiveness of educational agencies and their institutional partners.

quality assurance

Through its role at SDO, AIRC develops and issues standards and certification for educational agencies, providing quality assurance for the international student recruitment field. AIRC accredited agencies complete a rigorous process based on the US Higher Education Accreditation Model. AIRC monitors agencies, any public complaints about them are reviewed for potential investigation and, if indicated, agencies are placed on probation or may lose their certification. This system of quality control and accountability helps ensure that educational agencies meet AIRC standards. Institutions concerned with ethical practices must ensure that AIRC accredited agencies demonstrate their continued commitment to high quality standards and serve the interests of students and institutional partners.

The nature of quality partnerships

What do standards-based partnerships include? Good partnerships between institutions and agencies are not just transactions; It involves investing time to get to know each other and build trust. These entities need to build a working relationship backed by a contractual agreement so that each party understands its obligations to the other. Agencies need to understand the organization, and the organization needs to invest in training the agency to represent it. Foundation staff must communicate closely and continuously with their agency partners and ensure that they represent the organization in good faith and in an ethical manner.

Focus on the students

I have yet to meet a member of AIRC who does not share our core belief in putting students first. AIRC completed its strategic planning process earlier this year and resulted in a new mission statement that articulates this shared value: “AIRC supports the interests of international students, educational institutions, and educational agencies by developing professional standards and partnerships that advance effective and strategic practices in the administration of international registration.” However, the association’s vision emphasizes the paramount importance of a quality experience for all students: “A vision for standards-based recruitment and enrollment for every international student”. The student focus permeates the AIRC professional community of educational institutions and agencies. These fellows not only know their students, but care about them as well.

partners on earth

During the pandemic’s highest point, education agencies worked tirelessly to keep international recruitment efforts active for institutions. They have kept in close contact with students and their families, helped them assess and register for online course opportunities, advised them on travel policies and restrictions, and provided extensive support during this challenging period. The institutions I spoke with commend the ways our agency partners have done everything they can to represent the institutions and support students during the pandemic. In a world of educational opportunity, it is simply not possible for most institutions to have a physical presence in countries around the world. By partnering with agencies, institutions can provide more accurate information to students, advise them more effectively, and direct them to their campuses and academic programs.

Increasing partnerships between agency and institutions

Earlier this year, a survey by AIRC and the National Association for College Admission Counseling revealed that nearly half (49 percent) of responding institutions currently partner with educational agencies to recruit international undergraduate students, indicating an overall growth in the percentage of institutions that participate. With her agencies from a poll a few years ago. This is due to the widespread acceptance by institutions of the effectiveness and benefits of partnering with agencies.

An essential part of the national strategy

In July of this year, the US Departments of State and Education issued a Joint Statement of Principles in Support of International Education which was also endorsed by the US Department of Commerce. The statement calls for “a coordinated national approach to international education, including study in the United States by international students.” Education agencies have a critical role to play in this plan. Quality agencies provide US colleges, universities, and secondary institutions with representation in expanded regions of the world, helping institutions better diversify their campuses and do more in-depth work in identifying suitable students for institutions.

Congress and higher education associations strongly agree. The rapid introduction of two technical correction bills in the U.S. House of Representatives, one by U.S. Representative Mike Post (R-Illinois) and the other by U.S. Representative David Tron (D-MD), seeks to amend the Thrive Act, a testament to how powerful Congressional support is for the practices of Partnership with agencies, as permitted under current law enshrined in the Higher Education Act. These adjustments are what many higher education associations have advocated, as they also recognize the value and effectiveness of high-quality, standards-based partnerships between institutions and agencies.


As the United States seeks to rebuild international student enrollment and reassert its position as a leading destination for high-quality education, we should not shirk the responsibility to do everything within our power to ensure that students are provided with high-quality experiences throughout the educational life cycle, including during Recruitment and registration. Rather than limiting the tools that institutions provide them to attract international students who are an excellent match with them, we need instead to enhance their efforts by setting and enforcing standards, providing training and education, and holding the field accountable.

There are no guarantees that all international students will have a high-quality employment experience. But we have a better chance of achieving this vision not by restricting the strategies and tools that institutions use, but instead by making sure that the tools are compatible to help students.

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