Trends, insights and research to inform growth and innovation strategies in international higher education.

June 16, 2013

Using recruitment agents: Transparency to move from a dirty little secret to an open-book?

NACAC report on the use of agents for international student recruitment left most of us wanting more. At the same time, it has something for everyone to cite and justify their arguments. Overall, I am pleased with the outcomes of the report and here are my top two reasons:

1. Recognizes diversity: The report rightly recognizes that just because agents are used in other countries does not justifies its use in the US context. There are a diverse set of institutional and student needs. Any kind of ban or no ban situation would have been impractical and unhealthy. There is a wide spectrum of quality of agents which serve needs of a specific segment of students and institutions (see more on segments of international students).

Arguing that agent model works for all institutions and students is an hyperbole. Dan Zaretsky and I have a strikingly similar point of view mentioned in the Chronicle and the PIE News that some will never use agents, some will definitely use agents and perhaps the fence-sitters will become more wary as the Commission recommends that the use of incentive compensation based on number of students is not a "best practice."

2. Emphasizes transparency: To me, this is one of the most important elements which can help settle the debate. During an update meeting at NACAC in October last year, I asserted that "the Commission has rightfully acknowledged the importance of transparency, however, what is Commission's approach for enforcing transparency on institutions and then institutions in turn enforcing it on agents? For example, can we imagine a scenario where institutions will explicitly state on their websites if they work with agent and what commissions they pay, and would this information be available to students?" This emphasis on transparency will bridge the information asymmetry between institutions, agents and students and establish that using agents is not a dirty little secret but an open-book.

For example, Vincenzo Raimo in his blog post shares the example of the University of Nottingham. There are several models of transparency available in the education sector. For example, Law School Transparency project which aims "to the reform [legal education] by holding other stakeholders accountable, by making relevant data and information easy to consume....Reform starts with transparency and will end with a total reimagination of the modern law school." Likewise, the U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency has been working to provide "information for students, parents, and policymakers about college costs at America’s colleges and universities."

While I am overall pleased with the outcome of the report, I would have liked to see more concrete steps on how mandatory practices related to institutional accountability, transparency and integrity will be enforced. In specific, the alternatives to incentive payments remained untouched as "the Commission was unable to achieve unanimous consensus" (p. 7).

The reality is that many are engaged in a worldwide industry of agency networks. This means that stakes are high. Forward looking agencies and institutions need to work harder and set the standards by making the practices and outcomes more transparent through voluntary disclosure of data and information with students. I will be anxiously looking forward to model of institutional and agency best practices in using agents that encourage transparency to move beyond a secretive practices of information asymmetry.

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June 10, 2013

How MOOCs and competency-based learning shaping the future of online higher education?

Two models of higher education--competency-based learning and MOOCs--are offering alternatives to conventional higher education and shaping the future of online higher education. Given below are recent developments which highlight this trend:
  • Southern New Hampshire University, a private university in New Hampshire, "is poised to launch a $5,000 online, competency-based associate degree that would be the first to blow up the credit hour--the connection between college credit and the time students spend learning." In addition, it had been in gaining attention for its aggressive growth in online programs as a non-profit. It enrolled 2,750 undergraduates in its campus and another 25,000 in its online programs. The revenue for this "Little College That's a Giant Online" is forecasted to reach $200 million in the next academic year—four times what it took in for 2010-11.

  • Western Governors University founded by the governors of 19 U.S. states in 1995, is an online university offering competency-based degree programs to more than 38,000 students. "Western Governors University, also a nonprofit, has gotten by far the most attention in the competency-based space. A federal law, passed in 2005, was designed to clear the way for Western Governors to participate in federal aid programs while directly assessing student learning. The university, however, did not pursue that authority, partially because of worries about whether employers and accreditors would accept competency-based degrees. So Western Governors, like all other institutions, connects student competencies to the credit hour." 

To sum up, in times of increasing costs and doubts about the ROI of degree, higher education is facing tough challenge from new models of learning like MOOCs and competency-based learning. In fact, the new models are going to not only challenge learning but the whole philosophy and practice. For example,  SNHU hired the former CEO of an online customer-relationship company as director of online programs, to retool SNHU’s operations in the style of Zappos and Amazon. She says that "We have to pick up the phone, treat our students as customers, respect their opinions."

Is higher education willing and able to "serve the customers" and meet their changing needs?
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June 05, 2013

What are the future mobility trends and recruitment prospects for Indian students?

Some experts have predicted that expanded capacity of higher education institutions in India will slow the mobility students going abroad. However, I have taken a contrarian view that in the medium to long term mobility of Indian students will increase.

This is primarily because capacity has not kept up pace with quality of institutions and aspirations of individuals. Increasing affordability for foreign education among upper-middle class coupled with attractiveness for the US for STEM OPT and now green card prospects will continue to fuel demand for graduate education.

In the immediate term, data for graduate applications and visa applications are already reflecting growth in number of students from India for fall 2013.

According to the Council of Graduate Studies, number of application from India increased by 20% as comapared to decline of 5% for China, based on a survey of over 275 institutions which conferred about 2/3rd of the graduate degrees in the US.

Likewise, according to the Times of India, US consulate issued 5,600 student visas between October 2012-February 2013 marking a 50% increase since last year.

While undergraduate pipeline will take couple of more years to see substantial jump, it is inevitable due to the expanding upper-middle class which wants to invest in foreign education of their children (Gen-Q).

To sum up, here are some forecasts for mobility of Indian students in next 3-5 years:
  • US will continue to be the most preferred destination not only due to sociocultural prestige associated but also due to 29-months post-work opportunity (OPT) for STEM-related fields and immigration prospects. 
  • Master's level programs in STEM related fields will witness a significant interest from self-financed Indian students. This is in contrast with traditional segment of Indian students who were highly dependent on graduate assistantships. Similar trend is already taking place with large number of Chinese students in accounting and specialized business programs. Students segment for self-financed master's degree also fueled demand for British degrees few years back, however, now facing a decline due to stricter immigration rules.
  • Further down the line, this ability to afford global education will also trickle down to undergraduate level when children of upper-middle class parents who benefited from new liberalized economy in 90's and IT boom will start to seek undergraduate education abroad in larger numbers.

Overall, prospects for recruiting students from India are improving, especially for institutions interested in recruiting self-financed students. However, the last mile problem remains--how and where to find them?


Dr. Rahul Choudaha (copyright)
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