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Agent Practice: It’s Business, Not Personal

I have spent most of my career in higher education, working with universities to help them reach and recruit students. I have gotten to know many people at some of the best-regarded universities and have worked in the trenches with those with weaker reputations. Mostly, the people that I meet are caring, concerned, and feel confident that they are ultimately helping people improve their lives through further education.

This was before I fell into what some would call the dark side, the abyss, or the cesspool that some claim to be the realm of the agent. People have cursed me out and called me names in a manner that would impress schoolyard bullies. Those that try to stand up for the practice have been ostracized and relegated to second-rate positions in the university hierarchy. Visceral attacks compare the agency practice with the ranks of pornographers, human traffickers and organized crime.

I am an agent. Universities, colleges, language schools and high schools hire me to represent them in places they cannot or will not travel. Educational institutions are my clients and they pay me for services rendered. They also pay me according to my level of success. For a number of institutions, I am very cost-effective and vital to their financial future.

For the family, I am a trusted source of information. I am licensed by my local government and operate according to regulations established in my local market. For many people, I am sought after as I have successfully helped family members, neighbors, and friends. As their agent, I sometimes receive fees for services from families when the educational institution will not pay.

My business thrives on word of mouth and the quality of service I provide my clients (both universities and students.) I am a matchmaker, a deal maker, and a broker. I am an agent and what I do is legal, both overseas and in the United States.

There are those in higher education who dislike what I do. They think that no one should “sell” education, and if anyone does, they should not be rewarded for their individual successes. These critics use their associations, industry forums, and the press to disgrace my profession and make unfounded accusations against my character and my sense of professionalism. They know that what I do is legal, yet they try to bully their way using public forums to attack.

It is time to stop the slander. It is time to realize that the collective efforts to restrain legal trade have significant implications on the livelihoods of the universities I serve, my staff, and me. I have worked hard and diligently and I deserve fair treatment. Impeding my legal rights to conduct legal business has, and should have legal risk.

Agents are no longer isolated small little businesses, defenseless against the bullying tactics of these organized opponents. Today’s agents are large multi-national corporations, some publicly traded and increasingly American-based. As an American company, under contract with an American university, any collective efforts to impede my legal business are in effect anti-competitive and subject to action according to a number of American laws.

Collusion, restrain of trade, and unfair trade practices are claims that industries make when their business is impacted by anti-trust activities of an organized industry. My hope is that we have not reached that level and that the focus of critics can be turned away from name-calling and toward substantive issues. Critics say agents are purveyors of fraud, but in reality they are often victims of fraud and are doing all they can to stop it.

An aligned network profiting from good practice is in the best interests of American higher education. Some say they would rather deal with the devil that they know than the devil that they do not know. I suggest that the matter is simply business, and that business incensed to do positive things will find a way to do positive things.

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, 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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