When the University of Kansas inked a deal with a private partner to recruit international students, it hoped to double its enrollments. To achieve this ambitious goal, it was prepared to give Shorelight Education, the private recruiter, a big cut of the revenues – if it met its targets, Shorelight could have been paid $2 million a year.
To say that those goals were missed is an understatement. Since 2014, when the deal was made, Kansas’ enrollments actually fell by 11 percent, according to outstanding reporting
by the University Daily Kansan, the student newspaper. (Woot, woot, student journalists!)
In hindsight, the Kansas-Shorelight deal happened at precisely the wrong time, on the cusp of the slowdown of international enrollments. In an email to the Kansan, the university’s vice provost for international affairs, pointed to the national trends: “Given the international recruitment market nationally, the original projections are no longer realistic,” Charles Bankart wrote.
But was it really the wrong time? Over the last couple of years, as it’s become clear that the enrollment boom is over, one of the questions I’ve had is what it would mean for all the business that’s grown up around international recruitment. On one hand, tougher times could mean retrenchment and cost cutting. In that scenario, colleges would end ties with private partners and do bare-bones recruiting on their own.
But another storyline could also play out. Colleges would be more active in seeking outside providers to help them succeed in a tough enrollment environment, in which they face competition not just from other American colleges but from the world.
I was especially curious about the future of pathways, as the most intensive and ambitious of the private-partner models. In pathways, private companies work with universities to recruit students, who oftentimes wouldn’t meet regular admissions criteria, and bring them through a special program of academics and English-language instruction. The Kansas-Shorelight deal wasn’t unusual from the other pathways agreements I’ve seen – they are typically predicated on recruiting students in really large numbers. And they typically promise a lucrative payout.
The Kansas-Shorelight news comes on the heels of something I reported
a few weeks ago, that another pathways company, Navitas, was consolidating its presence in the U.S. Taken together, should we call lights out on the pathways model in America?
Maybe. But as one astute reader pointed out
, Kansas officials never say they have soured on the arrangement. And another pathways provider, University Bridge
, just announced an expansion, partnering with Santa Monica College.
I threw the question out on Twitter and got a variety of responses: