New Recommendations from NACAC on the Use of Commissioned Agents

In 2013 NACAC officially gave their member institutions the green light to add the use of agents to their recruiting arsenal.  However, at their 2016 meeting there were two new recommendations from NACAC on the use of commissioned agents. Those recommendations from their best practices are:

“In contracts with third party representatives, require those representatives to disclose to their student clients all institutions who are compensating them. In their promotional material for international students, institutions should offer to verify whether they have authorized any third party agents to represent them and indicate how students may request this verification.”

In other words:

  1. Schools must require agents to disclose all institutions that are paying them.
  2. Schools need to verify they have authorized agents to represent them and tell students how they can see they have been authorized.

Both of these recommendations are in line with what seems to be the theme of their initial ruling, that any institution that elects to use agents in their recruiting efforts, must do so with transparency and accountability. You can view the entire document and read more on this here.

Do you think that new recommendations from NACAC on the use of commissioned agents will help with transparency?



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Why Your International Student Office Should Have A Social Media Presence

For many years it’s been standard practice for students to request information, perhaps even a brochure, from prospective colleges and universities they want to attend. This request will then often spark the institution to follow up with the student to provide further information- it’s a common process that allows students to receive information to review and have the chance to ask remaining questions.

Although this routine is still commonplace for many, a recent EducationUSA Global Social Media Survey found that 70 percent of students are also now looking for college and university information from a place they’re already on: Social Media. If your international student office is trying to reach more students from around the world, here’s why you should be on social media too.

When you reach one, you reach many
Most of us are on social media personally and have seen exactly what I mean, maybe without even realizing it. I’ll use Facebook as an example: If your Facebook friend Bob Jones likes the page “International Student Offices Are Great,” more than likely you’re going to see that Bob has recently liked this page- especially if you have common interests with Bob on this topic or have a lot of interaction with him. Who and how many people will see that Bob liked this page will depend on the Facebook Algorithm gods, but our guess is that it will be more than those that he actually tells he liked the page.

Swoon them in 2 seconds
Which is about as long as an average attention span these days! Platforms that use photos, like Instagram, a platform whose 90% of users are under the age of 35 and 75% are outside the US, allow you to quickly get across the message that you’re trying to send to students. The best part? If you don’t have any text in your image, you don’t have a language barrier getting in the way!

Constant contact with potential students is possible
When you send a brochure after a student requests it then that’s often the main highlight of your interaction, unless you have a solid follow up plan in place that succeeds. However, when you connect with a potential student on social media you essentially have the opportunity to put the school in front of the student on a daily basis- without them getting annoyed. But keep in mind that simply having a social media presence is not enough, it needs to be maintained. Frequent (engaging) posts serve as a constant reminder to the student that your university is out there and doing really great things. Also, replying to questions gives students who might be on the fence about your school the information they need to make a final decision.

Lost mail is no longer another hurdle
When sending brochures to countries around the world it’s bound to happen- mail will get lost or it will show up months after the student has already made a decision on the school they’ll attend. Think sending an ebrochure is the solution? Even an ebrochure can get lost in the world of bounces and spam filters.

It’s a free marketing tool (with the exception of your time, of course)
Even if you find great pricing on marketing materials, sometimes it’s just not in the budget to create marketing materials specifically for international students. However, social media is free and you can target your message however you would like (with the institution’s stamp of approval). You can list details that only international students would care about, pictures from international student specific events, and provide a good place for international students to meet and mingle before they even arrive on campus.

What have been the successes or difficulties in your international student office having a social media presence?

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PHP 7 Has Arrived


After a long and winding road, PHP 7 is finally here.  You’ve probably seen the headlines, “2X the Speed, 1/2 the Ram!” and every variation you can imagine.  We’re jumping on the bandwagon here at Envisage and have started to deploy PHP 7 to our development testing servers in anticipation for a complete roll-out to our production machines this fall.

Can we run it?

After a bit of back and forth with checking  extension compatibility and updating some legacy code to resolve issues with fully deprecated extensions, we finally had a running server.  

Can we!

We’ve been able to benchmark the speed of our newest site,, and the results are promising.   Indeed, the amount of ram needed to process each page is roughly half of the previous version and the speed was twice as fast.


How is the magic possible? Is there really such a thing as free performance?  It appears so!  We updated our repo sources to a reputable one and pulled down the latest packages.  After updating the FPM config to point to new back-end PHP binary and doing some minor configuration adjustments, we started our suite of functional tests and the results are as promised.

It’s the insides that count

By focusing on the core of PHP and changing how internal structures operate, they’ve made the hashtables more efficient and the data structures themselves smaller, resulting in less memory and faster operation.

OPCache cache cache

Another new trick in PHP 7 is a secondary persistent, file-based cache to the standard OPCache that uses shared memory.  Basically giving you a second shot at serving up compiled OPCode before resorting to loading it from the file system.  On a server that’s reloaded often, a persistent OPCache will help speed up the processing as the shared memory space cache is primed.

JIT totally not vaporware

Another great reason to upgrade now is the promise of a JIT compiler that could appear in version 7.1 or 7.2.  That could boost performance even higher and help strengthen the reputation of PHP as a top-tier language for the web’s future. I will remain optimistic that it will be here sooner rather than later and we’ll see even more performance improvements.

To say we’re excited is an understatement.  The usual pattern for upgrading anything is first accommodating the new hardware requirements, which have always been higher than the previous version.  This update breaks the mold and gives you more for less.

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US Based For-Profit Schools Continue Look to International Markets for Growth

market growthThinkstockPhotos-78491646With growing regulation, continued scrutiny and shrinking revenue, US based for-profit schools look to international markets for growth.  In 2015, we saw the closing of Corinthian College.  This resulted in the closing 28 campuses and affecting over 16,000 students. Fortunately, most students will receive loan forgiveness. Now, 2016 has proven to be even worse for the beaten down sector.  With new regulations and questions about the leading accreditation agency hampering their domestic efforts, for-profit schools will continue to grow their international presence in an effort to keep stock holders happy and avoid US regulations. 

Here are a few of the headlines so far in 2016, leading us to believe our prediction in January will continue to be on track.

  • The Education Department recommends eliminating ACICS, the leading accreditor of for-profit schools.
  • The Education Department also has proposed new regulations, “We won’t sit idly by while dodgy schools leave students with piles of debt and taxpayers holding the bag,” Secretary of Education John King said in a statement.
  • DeVry released their Q2 earnings.  Devry Brasil’s revenue grew 28.2% to $48.1 million even with a negative currency effect. New student enrollment is up 26.4% over last year.   

Schools like DeVry and University of Phoenix, with their late 2014 acquisition of FAEL, a Brazilian Education company, will continue to look to international markets for growth.  Both schools are seeing increased revenue and enrollment this year in Brazil, with US revenue declining.  We anticipate this trend to continue and for US based for-profit schools continue to look to international markets for growth.

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ACA Plans, What Next?

Much has been said and written about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) over the last few years, especially as it relates to the international education community. In the early days of the act, there was speculation and some uncertainty as to how this would actually impact the industry, but the IRS provided us all with very clear and concise guidance on how international students are affected by the ACA. In short, they are exempt for the first 5 calendar years!

Although it’s been almost 3 years since we received that direct guidance, there is still a mixture of plans and opinions as to what options are best for students. As part of our annual 2016 predictions, we predicted that the popularity of ACA plans will decline – and that certainly appears to be holding true. In fact, some could argue that the popularity will not just a decline, but they could disappear as options altogether.

What’s Happening in the Industry

Over the course of the last few months, we have seen a string of large insurers in the USA sound out warnings about their ACA plans. In late January, UnitedHealthcare announced that they had lost $475 million dollars in 2015 on their ACA plans that were available through the exchanges, and in 2016 they expect this loss to rise to more than $500 million. Aetna also signaled they had lost “in the mid-single digits” on the exchanges in 2015, but expected the 2016 year to be better.

While these losses are specific to the exchanges, carriers are clearly struggling with this new complex and varied market. It also starts to show some of the weaknesses of the ACA and the mindset of some of the large ACA players – so will this affect ACA plans in the international education market too?

Some of the items we are seeing in the marketplace for ACA plans include:

  1. Losses – similar to the exchanges, carriers are struggling to handle the losses from ACA plans. With unlimited policy coverage and mandatory inclusion of benefits that were once excluded or heavily capped (due to their high loss nature), these plans are now experiencing much higher losses than in previous years and are proving to be unsustainable.
  2. Premiums – with the high losses, this invariable leads to higher premiums, and with ACA plans we are already seeing this as rates soar to well over $2,000 per year, and this could continue to rise.
  3. Plan Style – as carriers struggle to curb losses and understand the nature of ACA plans, this has led to plan changes which are making them less appealing to schools. This has included higher out of pocket expenses, with increasing deductibles and carriers refusing to cover dependents.

These indicators do suggest that ACA plans are struggling to adapt, and when premiums increase and benefits are lost, the market naturally turns to look for other options.

Emergence of Short Term Limited Duration Plans

While there will always be a place for ACA compliant plans, as they offer the highest level of coverage that is available in the market, with the changes that we are seeing, the market is slowly starting to realize and understand that there are other options.

The most common of which are short term limited duration plans. This style of plan is:

  • exempt from the ACA
  • traditionally offered by offshore/international insurance companies
  • provide schools with the ability to customize their coverage

To learn more about these differences and the plan options, please see our best practices guide for more details.

Another interesting key development is the shift that some providers are making to offering non-ACA compliant options, especially from those who traditionally only offered ACA compliant plans. This is yet another sign that the market is steering us away from the ACA, and towards plans that in many cases are more suited to an international student.

Only time will tell where the market falls, but the trends we are seeing show us that schools are starting to understand that ACA-compliant options might not always be the best for their international students and scholars. However, with this being an election year, things could all change again, but we will leave that for another blog post later in the year.

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Mobile Apps Versus Responsive Design


As the number of smart phones, tablets, and internet accessible electronics continues to grow, the need to create dedicated mobile apps is starting to wane as responsive site design starts to makes sense for more and more companies. Do you write apps for both  iOS and Android devices? What about Windows Phone or Blackberry? Do you have the resources in-house to develop, test and deploy them into multiple app stores? What about maintenance releases and bug fixes? Chances are, you’ve already built a responsive website. If you haven’t, you will soon or you’ll watch your traffic decrease steadily as the search engines direct traffic to more mobile-friendly sites.

There are very valid reasons for building a dedicated app, especially if the service you provide will access any of the features of the device like geo-location, the camera, or any function of the smart phone.

If you’re on the fence about choosing one path over another, think about these points:

Continue reading

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Title IX – Making News but Confusion Still At Hand

Sexual assault has been increasingly discussed on campuses across the United States, as repeat issues of sexual violence continue and schools try to find the best way to comply with Title IX.

In fact, when polling schools at the many NAFSA conference we visited, Title IX was on the forefront of many peoples’ minds. What’s the best way to meet our legal obligations? How can we put procedures in place that protect students? Can we (and should we) be doing more? These and other questions continued to resurface in our conversations, especially when trying to also deal with the complexity of international students in the mix.

Why all the attention?

It’s no surprise the amount of media attention schools are receiving when you consider the statistics:

1 out of every 5 women is sexually assaulted in college and in 75-80% of cases, she knew her attacker.
2014 Not Alone Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault

This, in conjunction with the legal obligation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, has made schools cautious about how to approach the topic of gender discrimination.  We heard from a lot of you, and schools are working to actively protect their students from discrimination, but are running into hurdles on the best way to handle this. Since then, the water has only been further muddied.

Title IX – The Dear Colleague Letter Not So Enforceable

Back in 2011, a Dear Colleague Letter on Title IX was sent to schools who received Federal financial assistance by the Department of Education. This letter reminded schools that they must have at least one employee to help schools comply with their legal responsibilities under this Act.  The letter stressed that every school must have a Title IX Coordinator who has been sufficiently trained and be given proper authority to oversee compliance. The letter further discussed ways to comply with Title IX, along with procedures that should be followed.

Many schools used this Dear Colleague Letter as the newly guiding document on how to avoid investigation – that was until a few weeks ago when the Department of Education said that this letter does not “carry the force of law”. This left many schools wondering, so what’s the overarching policy on compliance?

The Final Word – What is Enforceable

Unfortunately for schools, the Act is the only enforceable document, and all other guidance is just that – a set of recommendations on how to comply. This vague instruction, as some see it, is intentionally vague, so that schools are forced to apply the law in the strictest of applications, so that they do not end up on a list of education institutions that have open Title IX investigations going on.

We will continue to follow the discussion and debate surrounding Title IX, and would love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts on Title IX and how it’s impacted your institution.


** Image from Oak Park High School

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International Insurance Trends and Best Practices

open-bookChange and evolution is a part of any industry, and its how you adapt, develop and react to these changes that are key. This is especially true when it comes to the international insurance industry, while not the most fast-paced industry in terms of change, over the last few years we have seen developments that have impacted most in the international education sector.

Most notably we have been dealing with the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, and how this has affected international students and schools. Coupled with this, we then had the changing insurance requirements for the J1 Visa, one of the few visas to include minimum insurance requirements. In both cases, there was lots of confusion and misinformation swirling around the international education community (and there still is), as schools were trying to understand and work out how these changes impacted them.

More recently, the major movements in the industry are appearing not from direct changes or regulation adjustments, but rather as a knock-on effect. As we highlighted in our predictions for 2016, we envisage a decline in the popularity of ACA plans along with lack of insurance options for dependents.

With all these changes going on, either from direct policy/requirement changes or the more subtle indirect changes, it can be confusing for international educators to keep up-to-date and their finger on the pulse. This is especially true when a field such as international insurance is so important to educators and their students, but is often a secondary field that many may not have the opportunity or time to research and stay abreast of all the changes.

As experts in the field, that is where we step in and work constantly to provide information and resources to the industry that is both insightful and helpful, but also keep our colleagues updated on all the latest developments and trends. While our yearly trends and insights are a great way to do this, over the course of the last 6 months we have been developing our best practices guide for the industry, titled “Selecting and Managing International Student Health Insurance”.

The guide is designed to be a complete overview of all aspects of international insurance as it relates to the international education industry. Starting with the healthcare system in the USA and how it interacts with international insurance coverage, to legally mandated insurance requirements, what you need to consider when looking for international student coverage and all the way through different plan setup, options and benefit requirements.

We will be updating the guide a few times during the year, making sure we include new trends, changes and adjustments within the market. It will therefore not only be an excellent guide for someone new to the industry, but also for seasoned professionals who are looking to find out the very latest news and developments when it comes to insurance.
The guide is part of a long list of resources and benefits that we are building for the international education industry, more of which you can see on our school resources page.

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Effectively Market the Value of a Community College to International Students

Here in the USA, we all know the value of a community college.  But, how do you effectively market the value of a community college to international students who are not familiar with the benefits of getting an Associates Degree from a community college before transferring to a four-year school?  There are many traditional and non-traditional ways to get your value proposition across and in front of international students.


Valencia Community College is very effective marketing themselves and their value proposition online.

First, let’s outline a few of the benefits of a two-year community college Associate Degree, then we will address how to effectively market the value of a community college to international students.

  1. Community colleges are less expensive than a typical 4-year college or university.
  2. They do not have some of the rigorous admission requirements many institutions have, making the admission, transcript and enrollment process easier.
  3. A lot of community colleges offer English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, putting aside any language obstacles.
  4. They have done a great job formulating 2+2 partnerships and articulation agreements with four-year colleges and universities.   

 In other words, an international student can save money, have easier admissions requirements, learn English and then have almost guaranteed admission into a four-year institution.  That sounds great!

Now let’s look at how your school can effectively market the value of a community college to international students.

  • Agents – The use of Agents is gaining more and more traction as this recruiting tactic becomes accepted in the US.  This can be a highly effective strategy to get your schools value proposition as in country agents work directly with the students.  If you have the right agents in place, your school could be the top of the Agents list if the student is lacking in any of the areas we mentioned above (cost, admissions requirements, English language, etc.).
  • College Fairs – Traveling to an in country fair and getting some face time with potential students can be an effective way to market your school and your school’s value proposition.  However, this could be challenging if the student is not familiar with community colleges, the value they bring and if they are not familiar with your brand.  There are also online fairs, like CollegeWeekLive offers, that can get you in front of a large audience of students.  EducationUSA also hosts fairs and can be a great resource to promote your school.
  • Online Marketing – We all know students are searching for and researching schools online.  Today, there are numerous ways to reach students online such as listing your school on portal sites, pay-per-click advertising, email marketing, targeted banner ads, social media and the use of Google Hangouts, Skype, GoToMeeting, etc.  This could quite possibly be the most cost effective way to present your value proposition to a very large audience of potential students.
  • Word of mouth – There is no better form of advertising or marketing than word of mouth.  A student that comes to your school, is successful and transfers to a four year school to complete their education could be your best spokesperson.  As we know, most international students return home soon after they have completed their education.

These are just a few ways your school can effectively market the value of a community college to international students.  How are you marketing your school’s value proposition to students outside the US?



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Top 10 International Education Predictions for 2016

1 International Enrollment at Community Colleges Picks up Speed

2016 compassAfter a peak in international enrollment in the 2008/2009 school year (97,000 students), then four years of decline, community colleges have seen a slight uptick in enrollment (4.3%) for the last two years, according to the Open Doors Report.  We think this upward trend will accelerate into 2016 and beyond due to several factors.

The first is that community colleges are increasingly proactive about recruiting international students.  We see more and more community colleges at conferences like NAFSA and ICEF, either expanding or initiating their international recruitment efforts.  Among our own clients, like Tidewater Community College, Community Colleges of Pennsylvania, Valencia College, we see direct evidence of this trend toward increasing commitment to internationalization among community colleges.

Community colleges are also doing a good job forming and marketing their 2+2 programs and partnerships, working with EducationUSA and showing the value and benefits of a community college education.  While this approach is not new, over time international students are beginning to understand the value proposition of a community college.

1(Only) 20,000 More Chinese Students Study in the US

As the number of Chinese students in the US continues to grow, the percentage growth has been slowing for a variety of factors – read last month’s blog post for an overview. But this year the slowdown will hit the real numbers, which have grown by a low of 29,587 to a high of 41,568 every year for the past six years. There’s been a lot of discussion and analysis about the slowing growth rate, but that slowdown hasn’t yet meant a true drop in the number of net students coming to the US – this year, it will.

1Popularity of ACA plans decline

Now that Affordable Care Act (ACA) group insurance plans have been in the marketplace for a few years, the effects of moving to this style of insurance plan are starting to take shape. Most notably, rates are increasing as insurers come to grips with plans that now have much richer benefits, and therefore higher utilization. With international students exempt from the individual mandate under the ACA, schools are increasingly looking at non-ACA compliant insurance plans as they are often more competitively priced and more appropriately tailored to the needs of international students.

We are also starting to see insurance carriers in the USA, traditionally offering just ACA style plans, now looking to offer non-ACA compliant plans either alongside, or in replacement of ACA plans. As schools become more educated about the differences and benefits of both plan options and do side-by-side comparisons, the popularity of ACA insurance plans will decline over the year.

1Death of Mobile Apps vs. Responsive Sites

“Death” might be an exaggeration, but after the heady rush to code every possible site as a mobile app, the pendulum is swinging back as site developers build better sites with responsive layouts that work just as well on the device as they do on the desktop.  Developing high-quality mobile apps is still an expensive endeavor and each new device released or update to the device operating system forces developers to write fixes and patches.

Contrast that process to building a single site that is responsive to the device used to access the site, and which deploys the correctly sized site and appropriate content. Responsive CSS frameworks like Bootstrap, Foundation and Skeleton have eased the pain involved in building beautiful sites, and by starting the development cycle from the smallest phone screens and working up to the desktop, we can now create sites that look great on every device imaginable.

1US For-Profit Schools Continue to Internationalize

2015 proved to be a tough year for US for-profit colleges and universities, which lead to a big push towards international student recruitment into US campuses and the development of new campus locations overseas.  For instance, for-profit giant DeVry Education Group reported total revenue down 4.5% in the third-quarter from the previous year while their international segment reported 10.3% growth.

Devry also reported a 176% new student growth rate in their Brazil division in the third quarter, with total student growth of 76%.With diving revenues and enrollments, and stricter regulations on US soil, US-based for-profit schools will continue their shift towards the international market, with Brazil remaining a primary in-country target despite the ongoing recession in Brazil as students and families are driven to less costly, private domestic education options.

1Campus “Hot Topics” are Addressed and Battled

Topics like sexual assault, mental health, Title IX, and racial discrimination were in the news and engendered a lot of discussion in 2015, but 2016 will be the year that schools make real strides on these touchy topics. Title IX and mental health discussions are everywhere, and schools can no longer hide any dirty laundry. Universities will be ready to drop the veil on any potential areas of improvement, and also armed with the necessary resources to turn any of these areas of weakness into areas of strength. We are part of this trend, as we plan to follow up our Mental Health Awareness video and NAFSA sessions with a similar treatment of sexual assault on campus.

1The use of Commissioned Agents will Continue to Increase in 2016 in the U.S.

We admit, we predicted this in 2015 as well, but it is kind of a no-brainer with the NACAC decision from a few years past.  We attended ICEF in Miami in December, their largest North American event ever.  They saw an overall increase in attendees by 9% and first timers increase of 22% with 71% of the educators coming from U.S. schools.  We just don’t see the trend in using agents slowing down.  Especially if you take into account that the majority of the competing countries like the U.K. and Australia have been using agents for years, and the vast majority of students from China as an example, use agents to study abroad.

1PHP 7 Hits the Scene

Early benchmark tests indicate that PHP 7 is twice as fast and uses just half the memory of version 5.6.  In developer speak, this is a RBD (Really Big Deal).  To the rest of us, it means websites can be much faster, and much cheaper.

Although many companies and webmasters skipped the upgrade to PHP 6, as there wasn’t a clear enough benefit to all of the update work, we think that same analysis will push people to adopt PHP 7. Costs of RAM and more CPU cores are the main factors in pushing up the price of your monthly hosting bill.  PHP 7 (should) help reduce both of those requirements and many companies will be able to reduce the cost of hosting without any negative impact on the speed of the server.  Even if you don’t save money by reducing your server capacity, your site’s visitors will enjoy the speed boost and Google will ratchet up your site rank.  Win-win.

1Dependent insurance hard to come by in 2016

Dependent insurance coverage has come into the spotlight in 2015, and we expect this trend to gather pace into 2016. Coverage for dependents has always been expensive on insurance plans, but now with ACA plans requiring full maternity, wellness and pre-existing condition coverage, many school insurance plans are suffering from much higher utilization in these areas and therefore higher premiums at renewal.

As insurers look to reduce their risk, dependent coverage is usually the first to go on these plans. So dependents are left to look for their own coverage, which is not always easy.  In some cases, the available options for dependents require the primary student to enrol as well, and many individual student plans have also removed dependent coverage – so dependents are left to purchase either a stand-alone major medical plan or a standard travel medical insurance plan.

1More Colleges and Universities Adopt Instagram

As the attention span of the world continues to shorten it’s no wonder that Instagram reached 400 million users in 2015 (and is estimated to reach 106.2 million by 2018) – in just a split second you’re able to receive an update on those you follow without having to read a single word (with the exception of a few #CleverHashtags). Despite this social platform having the means to appeal to the masses, data continues to support that more traditional means of communication like email and phone calls prove to be more effective in reaching students. However, since 90% of Instagram users are under the age of 35 and 75% are outside the US, in 2016 more colleges and universities (especially international student offices) will jump on the Instagram bandwagon as the social platform continues to grow amongst their target market.





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