PHP 7 Has Arrived

elephpant

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, www.ESLDirectory.com, 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.

Magic?

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

Mobile-Apps-small

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.

Title-IX-Simplified

** 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

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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China’s Economic Slowdown, and its Impact on Chinese Students Coming to the US

There can be no doubt that China’s miraculous economic boom is slowing.

Miraculous, because China’s economy has grown over 10% per year for the past 20 years, according to official government data, an amazing feat, particularly for such a large economy. China now has the largest middle class in the world, with 109 million Chinese with wealth between $50,000 and $500,000. Dueling reports from consultants have the number of millionaires in China at over 1 million millionaires, according to Bain & Co, and at over 4 million, according to Boston Consulting Group. In either event, it’s a lot of rich Chinese families.

But slowing, based on all of the data available. Even the official Chinese government numbers, which many view skeptically as overly positive, show GDP growth below 7% in the latest quarter.
The stock market crash, where the Shanghai Composite Index lost 34% of its value from June to September this year, also got a lot of attention – how will it impact household wealth, and consequently student’s access to international education?

Slowing Growth Rate of Chinese Students in the US

Naturally, a faltering economy can reduce student mobility, particularly for a market as expensive as the US, so much attention has been focused on whether the rate of growth from China will slow. On that point, there is no debate – the rate of growth in the number of students from China has been slowing for 6 years, starting from the growth high-point of 29.9% in 2009/2010, the year that China took over the top spot from India.

china-chart

As the overall number gets bigger, it naturally gets more difficult to grow at the same rate. China’s 10.8% growth this year in actual student numbers was 29,601 more students, about the same as India’s 30,215 growth in numbers, but for India, #2 on the list of sending countries to the US, it was an astounding 29.4% growth. To look at it another way, the raw numbers of Chinese students in the US grew this year by more than the 29,587 added in 2009/2010 school year, the year that China had its highest growth rate.

But in addition to the simple fact that growth rate will slow as the raw number climbs, Todd Maurer makes the argument in his June 16 post that 5 factors will slow inflow of Chinese students:
1. China’s available pool of high school students is shrinking
2. Increased enrollment from China will need to come from lower-income demographic regions of China – not from the big metro areas of Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shenzhen
3. Scarcity value of a US degree in China is decreasing as more students go abroad and go deeper into the pool of US schools
4. China has rapidly developed quality higher education options for students at home in China
5. Certain very popular parts of US higher education system have reached saturation with current numbers of Chinese students

I won’t try to rehash each of these points here – read his excellent blog post for that.  But he makes a compelling case, not so much based on economic slowdown as on these other factors. Of course, the financial impact to families from a weakening economy play into some of these factors, particularly #2, as the assumption is these students are less financially secure than those from the big cities, and #4, as home-grown options cost less.  We have already seen data showing a slowdown in Chinese graduate students. The Council of Graduate Schools reports that the number of graduate applicants from China to US schools was down by 1% this year,  following a 5% decline last year.

But Still Some Growth Left

But even Maurer’s post anticipates continued growth from China, in the range of 2.5% – 5% compound annual growth. And John Hudzik, quoted in a September 11 Inside Higher Ed article, makes the point that saving for education is a long-term commitment for middle-class Chinese families, and there’s already a tremendous pipeline of high school students abroad and English learners. Rahul Choudaha, in his own piece in the University World News, seems to agree, arguing that the US continues to have the strongest allure among Chinese students as compared to other top English-language destinations. He contends that growth will continue, but shift away from self-funded graduate students to high school students, undergraduates and well-off “explorers.”

So where does this leave us? With a slowing Chinese economy and a slowing growth rate from China, for sure, but that’s not the end of the story. Most commentators seem to agree that we’ll continue to see some growth in the number of students from China – that alone is significant, considering the size of the current population. There also seems to be some consensus that unless it becomes more extreme and more prolonged, the economic slowdown in China won’t have a big impact. At some point, though, there will come a tipping point, when all of the factors examined by Todd Maurer will actually freeze, then even start to reduce, the number of Chinese students in the US. And when will that be – 3 years, 5 years, 10 years from now?

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2015 Predictions and Outcomes

We made ten predictions related to the world of international education back in January of this year. Now that the year is almost over, lets take a look at them and see the results.

1 International Student Numbers in the US Continue to Soar.

Our Prediction from January:

The number of international students in the US will exceed 950,000 in the 2014-2015 academic year. That’s a big number, but we think its possible as China (though slowing – see below) will continue to send more students, while major growth will come from countries with a strong home country government scholarship program like Brazil, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabia KASP program will expand further (Saudi Arabia now is the #4 sender of students to the United States), while Brazil’s Science Without Borders program announced 100,000 more scholarships this year for STEM students (Brazil is currently the #10 sender of students to the US).

Evaluation of Prediction:

We got this one right – 974,926, up 10% from last year – the highest growth rate since 1978/1979. Although China’s growth is slowing as expected (see below), still 30,000 more Chinese students were added to the total, Brazil was up 78%, Saudi Arabia was up 11.2%, and Kuwait up 24%. The big story that we missed on this was India, going from 102,673 to 132,888, growth of 29.2%. Most of this growth was at the postgraduate level, which was fueled by the recovering rupee, a growing Indian population in the US, and an improved US economy that is viewed to offer better training opportunities. Brazil, on the other hand, had staggering growth, but leading indicators are suggesting that this growth may start to drop off in the years to come. More on this in our next month’s January predictions newsletter edition.

1Growth From China Continues to Slow

Our Prediction from January:

The juggernaut can’t go on forever. There are nearly 300,000 Chinese students studying in the US, more than the total number of international students in all but a handful of countries. We called for a slowing of growth last year and got it, but not to the extent we expected. This year, we expect growth in the numbers from China to drop into the 10-12% range, down from over 16% this past year and 21% the year before. A few reasons – a cooling economy, cooling relations (as a result of retrenched communist party control, including significant travel restrictions), as well as the continued difficulties for US campuses to absorb such large numbers from a single country.

Evaluation of Prediction:

The Open Doors Report released late last month says we were spot on with this prediction – the number of Chinese international students in the US now stands at 304,040, up 10.8% from last year, mostly fueled by growth in numbers of undergraduate students. There’s been a lot of discussion about what to expect going forward from Chinese student mobility, with a lot of factors in play, including the slowing Chinese economy, the rapid development of the Chinese higher ed sector, and saturation in some markets – read our blog post for more China analysis.

1Insurance Fades to the Background

Our Prediction from January:

Insurance has been on the front burner in international education, as the ACA and J1 regulations have had schools and participants variously concerned, engaged and paying attention. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve enjoyed the limelight – but now we expect insurance to fade back as schools, exchange organizations and insurers all have a much clearer picture of the requirements and expectations. With international students exempt from the ACA for their first 5 calendar years in the US , and new J1 visa insurance regulations going into full effect in May, regulatory uncertainty is behind us for a while.

Evaluation of Prediction:

Elements of our prediction have come to pass. The regulatory landscape for international students and insurance is much clearer – with new J1 regulations now in place and clear guidance that international students are exempt from the ACA for 5 calendar years – and with that clarity many schools are back to business as normal with insurance.

However, for schools committed to ACA plans, there’s a whole a new set of issues to grapple with. With ACA plans now covering a whole range of benefits that were typically excluded in the past, the cost of these plans is rising. Schools are working to redesign or reconsider their ACA plans, as many carriers are dropping dependents and rising premium puts a strain on budgets.

1Domestic Recruiters Go International

Our Prediction from January:

The lead generation/student recruitment industry targeting domestic US students is highly evolved and technology-enabled, with live call transfer, immediate response, and sophisticated lead tracking, scrubbing and scoring. As the domestic market becomes more regulated and tougher to thrive in, 2015 will see more of these “domestic” recruiting and lead generation companies commit to international education in a bigger way. Companies like Cappex and Education Dynamics will look to take their domestic models and internationalize them.

Evaluation of Prediction:

While the desire is there and the market continues to grow, we have not seen the domestic recruiters do much more than dip their toes into international recruiting. As an example, other than a $1,000 scholarship for international students, there is no other mention of international on the Cappex site. Quinn Street, one of the largest lead generators in the domestic space stated in their annual report, “We are also
broadening our markets in education to include not-for-profit schools as well as expanding internationally in Brazil and India. There is no mention of offering international student lead generation services in the US. The one exception to this would be Chegg with the acquisition of Zinch and their expansion outside of what Zinch did in China to other markets across the globe.

What we have seen is companies that have a focus on international recruitment change course a bit and work to upgrade their models and technology to focus on more trackable results to catch up with the domestic side. There is a lot of work to do to get to where the domestic recruiters are, both on the school side and the vendor side, but they have begun to evolve over the last year.

1For-Profits Target International Students

Our Prediction from January:

This prediction is tied directly to #4 above, whereby a previously profitable domestic business looks to beef up revenue from international sources. While the for-profit sector will continue to come under scrutiny and even continue to see schools sold off, closed down and turn to non-profit status, you will see the ones that are trying to survive (yes, the big ones) begin to compete more aggressively for the pool of international students.

Evaluation of Prediction:

Not only was this correct in 2015, it looks like this trend will continue into 2016. From personal observations, we are seeing schools like Full Sail, who have been ahead of the curve in recruiting international students for a few years, at workshops like ICEF and representatives from Devry at NAFSA conferences. As mentioned in our blog on the topic, Devry’s overall revenue is down, yet international is up by 15%. Schools like Walden University are touting students from 150 countries across the globe. Most of the larger for-profits are now set up with advisors that are only dedicated to international recruitment, similar to traditional schools. The biggest difference is that their marketing budgets are much larger that traditional schools. The question we have moving forward is – how much of those large budgets will be dedicated to the international piece of the pie?

1Online Recruiting, Agent Recruiting Goes Bananas

Our Prediction from January:

Continued growth in international students flocking to the US, coupled with a difficult financial picture for many schools, will drive more colleges and universities to adopt non-traditional recruiting methods and online marketing strategies. As we know, in 2014 NACAC laid out their International Student Recruitment Agencies: A Guide for Schools, Colleges and Universities. Colleges and universities have now had 2014 to digest the report and integrate agents into their strategies for 2015 and beyond. We saw proof of this in Miami at ICEF 2014, having yet again their best attended Miami conference to date. From an online marketing perspective, we are seeing tremendous growth in our school partners as well as the amount of interest in schools coming on board in 2015. We are seeing the effects of the growing numbers of international students that want to study in the US in our own site traffic numbers, showing dramatic year over year growth. (Commerce Alert: Join our free webinar to learn about Featured School packaging and pricing on InternationalStudent.com, which will cover social media, email marketing, Google Hangouts, school success stories and more: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7938538087885250818)

Evaluation of Prediction:

The phrase “Goes Bananas” is open to interpretation. Clearly there has been an increase in schools that are turning to both the use of agents and digital marketing efforts. According to ICEF, their conference in Miami that focuses on the North American market has seen an increase in agents attending the conference by almost 10% and represent 12% more countries than last year. There will also be 26% more colleges and universities in attendance this year, showing the increased interest by US schools to use agents.

This is backed up by the fact that, according to the Agent Barometer, 80% of all agents surveyed anticipated sending more international students to the US in 2015 than 2014 and 91% felt the US was the most attractive destination to send international students.

We all know that students are researching colleges and universities online and this trend will continue as students become more savvy. We see the interest in digital marketing increasing first hand, by the growing acceptance of online marketing at conferences, by the number of schools that contact us, and by the number of school partners that we have added this year. Other online marketing companies are experiencing the same growth and increased interest in the international space.

1States Get Creative with Affordability

Our Prediction from January:

President Obama, inspired by a new Tennessee plan, has announced a proposal to provide free community college tuition for two years to anyone in the country, regardless of age. Just as the Affordable Care Act looks a lot like what Massachusetts did a few years earlier, this federal proposal also seems modeled on the exciting new world of college affordability in Tennessee. And though the Obama proposal is unlikely to go anywhere considering the current political climate and makeup of Congress, simply putting the proposal out there will spur other states to look creatively at college affordability programs.

Not that any state program will change the overall financial picture for international students – the US is not on a path to become the next Finland (which has just reversed an earlier decision to start charging tuition to international students). While a greater number of students will rely on home country sponsorship, personal and family support will continue to make up the largest percentage of student funding.

Evaluation of Prediction:

We didn’t see a surge of free two year college programs sweep the nation, but we did see strides in the right direction including two other states (Oregon and Minnesota) follow Tennessee in creating a free community college program, ten other states introduce legislation to create a free community college program, and numerous other states begin to offer performance based funding at either two-year institutions, four-year institutions, or both. There’s even some action at the city level. We’ll call that getting creative with affordability, and take it as a win. Read more in our blog post about states putting affordable access to higher education as a top priority.

1SSL Everywhere

Our Prediction from January:

You will start to see SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) everywhere – that means the little lock icon and yellow url that lets you know you are on a secure site. Between data protection issues as we go from one high-profile hack to another, and Google’s announcement late in 2014 that secure pages will enjoy a slight increase in ranking signals, webmasters will be transitioning their non-secure sites to SSL in droves.

Evaluation of Prediction:

We came close on this prediction. Major sites like Netflix, YouTube, Facebook and a few others did automatically move everyone to SSL encrypted traffic this year. There are still a few large sites that aren’t doing it, Amazon and Bing being two of the largest. Our main sites are SSL capable now, but we are still evaluating making it the default. Several large and scary bugs surfaced this year like FREAK, Logjam and POODLE and probably slowed the adoption of SSL everywhere.

1Mobile Starts to Dominate

Our Prediction from January:

Mobile and tablet traffic will to continue to grow and there will be a rush to convert non-responsive sites to accommodate those visitors. Google has already added the words “Mobile-Friendly” to the search results pages for mobile devices. Emails will also need to look good on phones, tablets and other internet connected devices, and mobile-friendly emails will become the norm in 2015.

Evaluation of Prediction:

Mobile device traffic has grown to about 48% of our site visits from approximately 35% last year. Sites with responsive designs and mobile-friendly layouts do receive a slight bump in SEO. It will be interesting to see how this changes as mobile devices are released with high resolution screens. The current crop of mobile phones like the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6 Plus all have screen resolutions rivalling those of a desktop monitor. The resolutions are higher, but with physical dimensions of the screens being around 4.5-6,” will people want the full desktop view on a handheld device?

Mobile usage stats: http://www.mediative.com/mobile-stats-for-2015/

Google says more searches on mobile than desktop: http://searchengineland.com/its-official-google-says-more-searches-now-on-mobile-than-on-desktop-220369

1Visitor Engagement Rules.

Our Prediction from January:

Visitor engagement and site speed will become increasingly important aspects of a website’s SEO signals. Faster sites that keep visitors engaged (think content, layout and navigation) will continue to rank well and sites with a poor user experience will suffer as Google refines its algorithms.

Evaluation of Prediction:

Site speed is a major factor in a positive user experience and studies have shown that 74% of users will abandon a site if the mobile view takes more than 5 seconds to load. 40% will leave immediately within 3 seconds and 80% of them will never return. Conversion rates are also negatively affected by slow loading times – for every second saved loading a page you can expect a significant boost in your site’s conversion rate.

http://www.yottaa.com/blog/application-optimization/marketing-web-performance-101-how-site-speed-impacts-your-metrics-

https://blog.kissmetrics.com/loading-time/

https://moz.com/blog/how-to-improve-your-conversion-rates-with-a-faster-website

And here are our sites, clocking in at 1 to 1.5 seconds, faster than at least 80% of the sites out there.

InternationalStudent.com site speed

InternationalStudentInsurance site speed

 

 

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