Rep Newsletters: Trends in International Admission and Enrollment - The Rise of Corporate Pathway Providers in the State of Illinois
The idea of a pathway program for international students is not a new concept in the state of Illinois, but agreements are evolving and new stakeholders are emerging. Since time immemorial, community colleges and four-year institutions have participated in Memorandums of Understanding (MOU’s), which result in students matriculating into degree programs at four-year institutions after completing language-training and/or academic coursework. Similar models have been employed by four-year institutions and often involve language training before, or in combination with, academic coursework. More recently, some institutions have engaged in agreements with corporate partners to provide off-site language training before students begin academic coursework.
The newest form of pathway program is a bit of a hybrid of these models. Recently, several institutions in Illinois have partnered with corporate pathway providers to share in the recruitment of students, delivery of education, and division of tuition revenue. This model differs greatly from those of the past because corporate partners participate much more in the administrative and academic aspects of the educational experience. In some cases, pathway providers employ their own administrators and faculty members — located on campus — and assist in the development of curriculum.
Two of the largest pathway providers that have entered the state of Illinois are Shorelight Education and INTO. Shorelight Education, based in the United States, currently has an agreement with University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and INTO, based in the United Kingdom, has an agreement with Illinois State University (ISU). While the specific details of each agreement are unknown, cooperation between corporate pathway partners and such recognizable institutions is sure to have on an impact on international admission and enrollment in the state of Illinois.
Why Use a Pathway Provider?
A major benefit of an agreement with a pathway provider is the presumption of increased enrollment. Again, the specific agreements between pathway providers and institutions are confidential and wide-ranging, but many agreements are reported to come with tacit guarantees — based on projections — related to enrollment. One reason why a pathway provider is able to increase enrollment is because they are able to accept students into academic programs for which they wouldn’t otherwise be eligible. For example, students who do not meet language requirements for a program can often be given some sort of “conditional admission”, which allows them to participate in language training while they make academic progress towards a degree program. This is often seen as a more appealing option than beginning with a traditional language program and then matriculating into an academic program.
Another advantage of participating in an agreement with a pathway provider is that it can contribute to diversity among international students on a campus. Several of the larger pathway providers have extensive agent-networks and are able to access markets that are off the “beaten path” for traditional admission and recruitment offices. In some cases, this diversity is included in enrollment projections and helps eliminate some of the risk associated with overly utilizing specific countries — such as China and India — to meet enrollment needs.
An additional benefit of an extensive agent-network is the ability to generate sheer numbers. The network itself is helpful in generating applicants, but this also relates to the sharing of tuition. Again, the specific agreements that individual schools engage in are unknown, but it has been reported that some pathway providers receive as much as 80% of first-year tuition from the students that they recruit. This has an effect on agent networks because it allows them to offer higher commission amounts than universities can often provide. While most pathway providers claim to adhere to a “standard” 15%-20% commission range — subscribed to by most universities — bonus structures can make the amount larger than it initially appears. Therefore, the financial incentives of working with a corporate pathway provider can be far more lucrative for an agent than working directly with a university admission office.
Are there Issues Related to Using Pathway Providers?
While using a pathway provider may help to address a university’s bottom line, it can also work to destabilize previously established agreements between universities and education agencies. A pathway provider’s ability to provide additional incentives can make it more lucrative for a commission-based agent to deal directly with a third-party than the actual university. These types of agreements also have the potential to undermine in-house enrollment efforts and place emphasis on outsourced recruitment. In other words, it can place in-house enrollment staff at a competitive disadvantage when competing for some of the same students as the outsourced pathway providers.
There are also ethical questions that arise with using corporate pathway providers. When the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) tepidly approved the use of commission-based education agents in 2013, the playing field looked very different. At the time, NACAC lifted a ban on commission-based education agents from providing off-site advising of international students. However, some of the current pathway partnerships involve for-profit organizations utilizing the facilities of non-profit universities, participating in the delivery of education, and engaging in tuition sharing. It could be argued that this is very different than commission-based advising on off-site premises. While it currently seems to fit within the framework of NACAC’s 2013 decision, there is always the risk that opinions can change. This would be especially troublesome for institutions that choose to rely heavily on pathway providers to meet enrollment needs.
The use of corporate pathway providers in the state of Illinois is still in its relative infancy, but the initial impact that it is having on international admission and enrollment across the United States is clear. Shorelight Education already has agreements with 16 universities and INTO has agreements with eight universities in select areas around the country. It should be of little surprise that these organizations would be attracted to the state of Illinois, but the lasting effect that these types of agreements will have on international admission and enrollment in the state is yet to be seen. While there are many positives associated with these agreements, they have to be weighed against ethical questions regarding the place of for-profit organizations on non-profit university campuses.
Admissions and Enrollment Rep