Bridge and StudentMarketing Collaborate on Market Research Initiative

Bridge Education Group, a Denver-based ESL university pathways provider, and StudentMarketing, a market intelligence firm specializing in international education, UNWTO Affiliate Member and individual ESOMAR world research member, announce their joint research initiative on the pace of adoption of international student recruitment agencies by U.S. universities.

The use of agencies to recruit international students by universities in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom has been well documented, and to a large degree credited for the success of international student recruitment initiatives in those countries. It is estimated that between 30% - 50% of international students attending Australian, Canadian and UK universities are recruited via agencies.

The U.S., in contrast, has been seen to be reticent in adopting agents as recruitment channel partners for international student recruitment. In 2013, NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) reversed its ban on incentive compensation-based student recruitment. However, the Association specifically states that it does not endorse the practice. Today, the controversy over the use of commissioned agencies in international student recruitment in the United States continues with differences of opinion expressed by a variety of stakeholders on both sides of the issue.

“The purpose of this study is to provide insight on both the pace of adoption of agencies as a recruitment channel partner by U.S. universities, as well as how specific market forces and public opinion are influencing how this adoption takes place and to what degree this differs from practices in other countries,” explains Jean-Marc Alberola, President of Bridge Education Group.

Research began in September of 2015, and initial research findings were shared at the AIRC (American International Recruitment Council) Annual Conference in December of 2015. The findings included preliminary data on average number of university partners per agency, types of credentials required by universities of agencies, and commission rates.

“The opportunity to present preliminary data findings was invaluable as it allowed both agencies and universities to share their insights and input and contribute to our efforts to improve the design and scope of survey instruments as our research continues into 2016,” said Samuel Vetrak, CEO of StudentMarketing.

While much attention has been given to the controversy surrounding the use of agencies by U.S. institutions, to date, only limited research has been conducted on the pace of adoption, commercial aspects of agency-university relationships, the unique characteristics influencing how U.S. institutions engage with agencies, and analysis of future trends, all part of the scope of this research initiative.

“The preliminary findings presented at the AIRC conference promise to provide research backed by sound statistical data which universities can use to form an opinion on whether or not to engage with agencies as recruitment partners and allow the community to further this discussion,” said Chris McKenzie, Director, American Semester Program at Michigan State University.

Agents present at the AIRC conference also endorsed the research; “Without a doubt, this research project is going to prove very valuable for all parties involved – institutions, education associations and agencies alike – as it provides a solid foundation for future discourse. I compliment Bridge Education Group and StudentMarketing on their pioneering efforts and I look forward to learning more once the results unfold,” said Alexandra Michel, Associate Director of College Contact GmbH in Muenster, Germany.

The project is utilizing several research methods and is being carried out as a combination of secondary and primary research. More than 3,000 U.S. universities and colleges as well as 16,000 education agencies worldwide have been or will be invited to participate in quantitative surveys, with the aim of achieving a representative and one of the most robust research samples in international education. Furthermore, in-depth interviews with a wide-ranging pool of stakeholders (university representatives, agencies, accrediting bodies, government agencies, suppliers, etc.) will be taking place to provide qualitative insight to complement quantitative data.

StudentMarketing, a UNWTO Affiliate Member and member of ESOMAR, ensures compliance with the highest international research standards.