BANGOR, Maine — A company that recruits international students and brings them to universities in the U.S. and other countries has brought fewer students than planned to two University of Maine System campuses, according to the system’s spokesman.
The company, called Study Group, signed a contract with UMS in March 2013 with the stated goal of recruiting 50 students to the University of Maine and 20 students to the University of Southern Maine in its first year.
Under the contract, Study Group is paid on a per-student basis.
Four students were enrolled at UMaine in the fall semester of 2013 and one withdrew. Program organizers said that recruiting activities had gotten a late start.
UMaine added 12 more students during the school year, all of whom are expected to return this fall, as are the four who enrolled last fall. The university expects to enroll 20 new students for the fall of 2014.
“When we first signed the contract, we’d really missed that recruitment cycle already,” said Jimmy Jung, UMaine’s vice president for enrollment management. He said UMaine has been pleased with their partnership with Study Group.
“[Almost] 40 is not a bad number,” he said.
USM has enrolled one student.
“The partnership between the University of Southern Maine and Study Group is moving forward, albeit not as quickly as we had hoped,” said Dan Demeritt, executive director for public relations for UMS.
“ President [David] Flanagan and his leadership team will be making student recruitment and retainment a top priority,” he said. “We expect to make good progress with Study Group in the months to come.”
Increasing student enrollment, particularly among out-of-state students, is a strategy that UMaine has used to combat declining enrollment and a dire financial situation. The system administrators say they will need to cut $69 million over the next five years to balance the campus budgets.
Study Group is an international, for-profit company that was founded in the United Kingdom. The company partners with colleges in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several European countries to bring students to their campuses. The company uses a large network of agents to recruit students from across the globe. Once the students are on campus, Study Group provides English language classes and other support services.
The students that come to UMaine and USM pay full tuition, 80 percent of which goes to Study Group during their first year. Each year thereafter, 5 percent goes to Study Group. Out-of-state tuition is $26,250 per year at UMaine and $19,950 at USM.
The university system invested about $1.5 million to renovate Estabrooke Hall at UMaine and Upton-Hastings Hall at USM to accommodate Study Group.
Though there is minimal Study Group presence at USM, Demeritt said the new space is used for other programs.
The use of companies such as Study Group to recruit international students to U.S. colleges is debated by college admissions professionals.
Proponents of the method say that for financially strapped institutions, the practice is the best way to increase diversity on campus and bring in more students who will pay full, out-of-state tuition.
“Engaging foreign students builds valuable relationships between them and our students, campuses, businesses and communities that are increasingly important in a global economy,” UMS Chancellor James Page wrote in a memo to a board of trustees committee last year.
But critics say that the payment structure, which rewards the outside companies or recruiting agents based on the number of students they recruit, can be abused.
The practice of paying agents on a per-student-recruited basis can be illegal if done within the U.S.
The University of Denver’s associate dean of international student admissions, Marjorie Smith, told the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting last year that she had found that sending her own admissions staff on recruitment trips did not cost more than using agents, but was more effective.
Jung said it would take UMaine five to 10 years to establish all the contacts necessary to get a robust international student program going.
The National Association for College Admissions Counseling has said that colleges are taking on some risk when enlisting agents or companies that work with agents. The association recommended “strict new standards for institutions using paid agents for the recruitment of international students” to its member institutions in a 2013 report.
“The professional association for admissions counselors has not released a statement against it,” said Jung about the use of agents. “They want to make sure we use caution and make sure these agents are reputable. To that, we are doing everything we can to make sure everything is above board.”
In a previous version of this story the National Association for College Admissions Counseling was incorrectly called the National Association for College Admissions Counselors.