Seven University of Wisconsin System campuses pay foreign agencies to help them recruit international students, sometimes spending more than $1,000 per student, according to a State Journal survey of the 13 four-year campuses and the System's two-year colleges.
The practice of paying commissions for each recruited international student is common yet controversial. It's banned within the U.S. but largely unregulated abroad.
"It's something we would collectively, I think, agree is completely unethical here," said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. "How does it become acceptable just because the targets are foreign nationals?"
Commission-based agents are motivated by money, not by making the perfect match between a student and a school, critics say. Agents working for Dickinson State University in North Dakota, for example, reportedly misrepresented themselves as employees of the school, giving students inaccurate information about majors and degree requirements. An agency hired by UW-Stevens Point allegedly falsified admissions information to get foreign students accepted into U.S. colleges. Stevens Point has since stopped using that company.