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Admissions Agents Receiving Commissions: Why It's Bad For Students

Mar 14, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

For-profit colleges are known for employing questionable recruiting tactics to reel in new students—including paying their recruiters by the number of students they attract to the school. But these days, for-profits aren’t the only offenders—and their counterparts aren’t just wealthy nonprofit colleges.

According to an article in the New York Times*, the latest college to be found inappropriately paying recruiters to bring in new students was Green River Community College, a small public institution that nonetheless accepted over 1,400 foreign students for the 2012 school year.

Recruiters are prohibited by law from being paid by the number of students they recruit in the US. But the practice isn’t illegal overseas—and many colleges employ it to generate new college tuition dollars from comparatively wealthy overseas students. This isn’t necessarily an illegal practice—but it is a controversial one. Here are just a few of the reasons why paying your recruiters by commission is bad for the students themselves—as well as the school.

Students get recruited regardless of readiness

Suit Holding Money

The truth is, paying recruiters a commission for students they unroll is bad for students—both at home and abroad.



When a recruitment agent sees a piece of his paycheck in every student he evaluates for admission, chances are a lot of students will get in—who might not otherwise. Recruiters who are paid on commission have no incentive to be picky—in fact, they have an incentive to be as open as possible in terms of enrollment. If your school is paying its recruiters to bring in students and you get accepted, don’t get too excited about that acceptance letter—it’s not exactly a compliment.

Students who aren’t ready drop out and default

For-profit colleges, many of which relied until recently on recruiters who got paid on a commission basis, also attracted government attention because of their high drop-out rates and student loan default levels. One possible reason for this is that recruiters pursued students who were not academically ready for college—setting them up to fail. And dropping out of college can have profound financial consequences, leaving the former students with thousands in student loan debt and no degree to show for it.

Misrepresentation is common

When recruiters are paid by commission, their incentive is to say anything to get students to sign up. This means your recruiter may be less than forthcoming to you about the school’s programs and how well they fit in with your goals; employment rates and earning potential for new graduates; and workplace demand for certain degrees. And that can have an effect on your future. For example, according to September 2011 figures, almost twice the number of for-profit students defaulted on their loans in the past year than students from public universities and almost three times those at nonprofit private schools. While it’s never officially stated that the default rates are caused by misleading enrollment practices that tend to attract unprepared students and mislead them regarding the earning potential of their degrees, it’s credible as one of many underlying possibilities.

The truth is, paying recruiters a commission for students they unroll is bad for students—both at home and abroad. It may be difficult to find out if the recruiter you are talking to is paid by commission—although this is more likely if the recruiter is representing a US college overseas. But if the recruiter seems eager to get you to sign admissions documents, and is making their college sound too good to be true, follow your instincts—because it probably is.


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