“As someone who was there at the birth of the American International Recruitment Council, I want to share some reflections about the role of federal recognition of standards development organizations in the international student recruitment debate.
By the mid-1990s, globalization of higher education had resulted in an international student recruitment environment significantly different than what had evolved during the prior post-WWII period. A vast industry of international student recruitment agencies had emerged; an industry nurtured by America’s Anglophone competitors in higher education – in particular, the United Kingdom and Australia – which fueled their rapid growth in their higher education exports, while eroding American market share.
American competition for international students was hampered internally by a lack of consensus-based industry standards governing the field of agency-based recruitment.
Institutions had difficulty differentiating good operators from bad, were concerned both with their own reputational risk, and need to provide greater assurance that the interests of student were being protected.
American competition for international students was hampered internally by a lack of consensus-based industry standards
In addition, federal agencies appeared to be badly confused regarding the development of agency recruitment channels – with the State Department opposing the use of educational consultants for recruitment while the Commerce Department actively encouraged the same activity.
It was within this context that the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC) was established by US accredited post-secondary institutions, led by several state research universities. The founders of AIRC noted an emerging body of federal legislation which encouraged the creation of industry-based, consensus standards organizations, and which required federal agencies to work with such bodies.
AIRC was modeled on US higher education accreditation, as a federally recognized consensus-based standards which would implement a stringent certification process capable of identifying good actors, and penalizing the bad.
All federal agencies should be aware of the legal standing that AIRC has achieved
The US Congress provided the impetus for the creation of the AIRC. The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 not only recognized the importance of consensus standards bodies to the national economy, but it also required the use of such standards by Federal agencies.
It also explicitly encouraged Federal agency representatives to participate in ongoing standards development activities. In a 1998 policy Circular, President Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget directed heads of executive departments and agencies “to use voluntary consensus standards in lieu of government-unique standards except where inconsistent with law or otherwise impractical.”
Immediately upon incorporating as a 501c3 in 2008, AIRC officially registered as a Standards Development Organization (SDO) with the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. AIRC’s founding institutions invested in this consensus-based standards development effort with the full expectation that these efforts would be recognized by relevant federal agencies.
AIRC has fully observed the intent of the law and resulting policy. AIRC member institutions firmly believe that industry standards in the area of international student recruitment will provide a basis for better coordination among federal agencies and dramatically increase higher education exports, while providing greater protections for students.
International recruitment agencies which have successfully achieved AIRC certification did so with the expectation that AIRC standards and certification would be federally recognized. Investments have been made on the basis of this understanding.
Many of AIRC’s members have been disappointed that some US federal agencies have continued to issued ill-informed and misguided policy statements and directives which have directly undermined AIRC’s efforts while doing significant harm to the higher education industry.
All federal agencies should be aware of the legal standing that AIRC has achieved as an SDO, as well as their obligation to work with AIRC to ensure that consensus-based industry standards for international student recruitment are adopted as a means to strengthen US higher education exports, while providing enhanced consumer protections for students.”
Mitch Leventhal is Vice President at AIRC and Vice-Chancellor for Global Affairs at State University of New York, USA.