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Agents Becoming Much More a Part of NAFSA

The 2012 NAFSA conference is now behind us. For the 8,500 attendees, voices have started to return, feet have stopped aching, and those who have traveled halfway around the world have just resettled into home. From the agent perspective, NAFSA 2012 was a proud showing. There were a record number of agents with booths in the exhibit hall and sessions on the use of agents, and plenty of agents as delegates (attendees).

The exhibit hall featured the likes of Aoji, Can-Achieve, EIC, EduGlobal, IDP Education, and IGEC, as well as several large service firms such as LearnHub and QS that have agent models or performance-based services as well as advertising and fixed cost services. AIRC was in attendance with both a booth and a new agent workshop, and the ever-present ICEF seemed to be everywhere.

BMI Workshop also attended the conference. Agent Workshops take place annually in Brazil, Canada, Colombia, and Turkey, and bring together international educators and carefully screened high-quality student recruitment agents. Even the Beijing Overseas-Study Service Association (BOSSA), a licensed NGO, had a booth promoting their organization.

Agents do fit into NAFSA. Unlike some of the other associations related to admissions and recruitment, NAFSA’s official stance on agencies has been neutral, offering opportunities for universities who need the help of agents to connect to students, but at the same time offering a wealth of resources for universities that want to go it alone.

If support was needed, NAFSA members would approach a section, or knowledge community (KC) previously called RAP (Recruiting, Admissions and Preparation). Just prior to the conference, the KC was renamed the International Enrollment Management reflecting the growing complexity of the practice.

The NAFSA conference continues to expand and this year seemed to be near epic proportions. More participants, more services, more options, and of course, more receptions. The business of higher education has never been more evident and overseas recruiting, whether through agents, fair providers, or lead generation, was evident everywhere.

On the commercial front, areas that seemed especially active were pathways, summer university preparation programs, and enrollment for boarding and high schools. “Pathways” refers to conditional admissions routes into universities that offer intensive English along with freshman-level general education courses. These pathways are designed to help those who need added language support to begin their studies. Due to the specialty nature of this service, universities seem to be increasingly turning to vendors for help. A number of companies such as INTO, Kaplan and Navitas partner with colleges to, in essence, outsource this service. There also seemed to be a real surge in programs designed to help overseas high school students prepare for college with camp-style experiences combining ESL training with admissions-focused programs such as test prep, essay writing, and interviewing skills. One of the hottest growth areas in recruiting has been for boarding schools and private high schools. This segment has been popular with students from Korea for a number of years and now interest from China, as well as many other parts of the world, is incredibly strong.

With nearly every major economic indicator pointing to education as a key to future prosperity, and nearly every country in the world making higher education a priority, the NAFSA conference will continue to grow in both size and importance. As the role of agents in this market continues to mature, expect agents to continue to be an important part of the education infrastructure.

Mark Shay is a business developer with a long history of success helping higher education institutions recruit students. In an illustrative career that has spanned three decades, Shay has served thousands of customers, ranging from individual faculty members and graduate deans, to university presidents and foreign governments. He is well known for balancing the non-commercial spirit of educators with the commercial realities of operating efficiently and effectively using technology to improve results. He founded StudyAbroad.com, GradSchools.com and has worked in leadership roles at two universities and IDP Education. He has recently started a consulting practice and is serving as an advisor to AAE. Mark is also the editor of ChinaTrend: Insights into the Higher Education market in China

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