Circumstances leading to agency partnerships vary by institution. While some schools meet agents through education fairs and develop relationships organically, others begin intentionally seeking agency partnerships as part of their strategic plans. John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a City University of New York school, began working with agents in 2015 when its international admissions department developed a comprehensive recruitment strategy.
“Signing agents and dedicating more money to recruitment of international students is only one piece of the puzzle,” says Eli Cohen, John Jay’s deputy director of International Student Recruitment & Marketing. Salma Benhaida, director of International Recruitment, Admissions & Sponsored Student Services at Kent State University, echoed this sentiment, stating that the school began using agents to add to its recruitment mix. According to Benhaida, making use of diverse strategies—including traditional recruitment, social media, and agencies and other third-party partners—is important for recruiting strong cohorts of students. Using international recruiters is one strategy of many.
Just as multiple recruitment strategies are vital, so too is tailoring them to individual markets. In certain countries, students and parents expect to use agents to help complete applications or visa processes. For an institution to penetrate these markets without agents is difficult. Schools should examine each region or country and define the best strategies to find students within that context. Benhaida notes that China, India, Bangladesh, and Saudi Arabia are all markets that have a critical saturation of students who use agents, though China has begun to see a shift at the undergraduate level: Parents and students are relying more on secondary school guidance counselors rather than agents to assist with the application process.
Institutions working to recruit international students often have small international marketing and recruitment teams and face budgetary constraints that limit travel. Working with agencies began as a way to address, in part, these capacity challenges. Since schools typically pay commission only upon student enrollment, partnering with agents is often seen as a relatively low-risk strategy, provided that institutions develop strong relationships with these partners and use best practices in vetting and assessing them.