The report by Blumenthal's group and the U.S. State Department says international students inject $21 billion into the American economy, including money spent on tuition, living expenses and accompanying family members.
Some schools eschew hiring recruiters in favor of building close relationships with international schools in targeted countries.
At Missouri State, Meinert said, the school's partner does not work directly with students or their families. Instead, it seeks deals with sponsors who then steer groups of students toward the program — and continue to offer support after enrollment.
"We're not looking to find an individual, to go hunting for one student at a time," Meinert said. "An agent's relationship with a student ends when they get a check."
Cheating on American college applications is rampant in China, according to Tom Melcher, chairman of Zinch China, a Beijing-based consulting company that works with U.S. universities.
The company surveyed 250 high school seniors and determined that 90 percent of Chinese undergraduate applicants submit phony recommendation letters, 70 percent rely on essays written by others and 50 percent falsify their transcripts.
Melcher attributes the acceptance of cheating in part to "aggressive agents" who typically charge parents $6,000 to $10,000 — and similar-sized bonuses if the student gains admission to a top-ranked school. Those payments do not include fees that agents charge schools, which can be more than 10 percent of tuition.
"Until and unless American schools systematically address cheating on applications from China, the problem will continue to grow," the company report said.
The recruiting industry says it's working to tighten oversight of agents. Supporters liken recruiters to the private admissions counselors used by affluent families to help American students get into the most selective schools. Not long ago, those services were also considered the bane of higher education by opponents who felt that admissions decisions were best kept away from anyone seeking a personal profit.
At Westminster College, a private liberal arts school in the central Missouri town of Fulton, international enrollment has grown from 3 percent less than a decade ago to more than 16 percent.
Most of those students are drawn from an organization called United World Colleges and an ample private scholarship fund. Previous efforts to use recruiters made little difference.
"There are very good recruiters out there who are very solid and do all the right things," said George Wolf, the school's vice president of enrollment management. "And then there are recruiters out there just to a make a buck."
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