2018 International Education Predictions and Outcomes

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: time to revisit our 2018 predictions. Each year we come up with list of predictions related to the world of international education. Now that the year is almost over, let’s take another look at our predictions and see how we did!

1End of the Mandate Pushes Schools Away From ACA for International Students

Our Prediction from January:

Although Republican efforts over the summer to repeal the ACA (Obamacare) failed, that didn’t mean the landmark legislation was safe from attack. Instead, its been death by a thousand cuts – here’s a few of the efforts by the Trump Administration to undermine the ACA:

  • Steep cuts to Navigator groups and to Marketplace outreach efforts, to prevent education of people on the law and subsidies available to them;
  • Executive order aimed at providing more ACA-exempt plans;
  • Medicare/Medicaid Administrator giving an “unprecedented level of flexibility” to states requesting waivers from ACA rules;
  • Halting cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers;
  • Prohibiting U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) employees from participating in Marketplace enrollment events;
  • Reducing the enrollment window;
  • Active video campaign by HHS to undermine the ACA;
  • and finally, in the tax bill just passed, eliminating the individual mandate that requires all US Citizens, Permanent Residents and Resident Aliens to have ACA-level coverage with essential health benefits.

Regardless of where you stand on the ACA, and most Americans wanted to keep and fix it, it was never very relevant to international students. It was geared towards lifetime coverage, not temporary visitors and most were exempt from the mandate anyway. With the end of the mandate, colleges and universities will accelerate the trend we’ve already seen – going away from ACA coverage for international students and embracing plans custom-built for international students.

1 Evaluation of Prediction:

Our own experience and anecdotal evidence confirm this trend, but without hard data we’ll take it as a half a win. In our prediction we highlighted how the ACA survived the repeal and replace votes in the Summer of 2017, but in a weakened state, especially due to the elimination of the individual mandate.  Although some colleges and universities are committed to an ACA plan because of state mandates or regional expectations, many schools need to reduce the cost of insurance to their students while ensuring they are adequately covered for their time in the US using a non-ACA plan custom-built for international students.  These custom-built plans can include some of the more popular provisions of the ACA, like preventative care and pre-existing condition coverage. Since the popularity of ACA cradle-to-grave style coverage has continued to drop, there are fewer insurance companies offering it.  Without the individual mandate, there are no longer any students that are required to have ACA coverage – how much this has contributed to the reduction in ACA plans is unknown, but the trend is clear.

1Open Doors Report Shows New High, Followed by Steep Drop-Off

Our Prediction from January:

For 45 years the number of international students in the US has grown every year, with the exception of the small declines seen from 2003 to 2006 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and resulting visa slowdowns. The Open Doors Report from November 2017 showed a 3.4% jump in total international students in the US, from 1,043,089 to 1,078,822, but it also showed new enrollments down about 7%, or 10,000 students, to 291,000. The question is, when will the decreasing number of new enrollments flatten out the overall growth in students?

Open Doors data is always a year behind, so the latest report reflects enrollments for the 2016/2017 school year – meaning most of those students made their decision to come to the US when the Trump Administration was still more reality TV than politically viable. Many signs are pointing to a bigger drop in enrollment for the 2017/2018 school year. Our prediction – although there will be a bigger drop in new enrollments, it won’t be enough to offset the giant new enrollment years we saw in 2013 to 2016. We’ll see one more all-time high in the November 2018 Open Doors Report, followed by a steep decline in the 2019 report as those giant new enrollment classes drop off.

1 Evaluation of Prediction:

Not surprisingly, we got this one right. The most recent Open Doors Report from IIE shows that the total number of international students in the US increased by 1.5%, while the new incoming class dropped for the second year in a row, by 6.6%.  One could quibble, of course, that a 6.6% decline is not a steep drop-off, and we’d accept that position.  But the Open Doors Report doesn’t show the full current picture, since its data is for the 2017-2018 academic year.  We’ve had another new class arrive since then, and another currently being recruited, and our own evidence gathered from recruiting fairs, google trends, the IIE Fall Enrollment snapshot, State Department visa issuance statistics and other reports and surveys are that we’re in for at least another two down years.

1Continued Turmoil and Adaptation Within The For-Profit Sector

Our Prediction from January:

2016 and 2017 were brutal years for the for-profit education sector. We saw the end of ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges, the demise of the leading accreditation body ( ACICS), strict regulations put into place, hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits and fines, and a rapid decline in enrollment numbers and revenue.

Hello, 2018. Things have to get better, right? Things would appear so as we now have a for-profit friendly administration that has worked to undo regulations from the previous administration, and Wall Street is taking kindly to those that remain publicly traded. In fact, Adtalem Global Education (formerly Devry Education Group) stock is just a couple bucks away from a five year high.

However, it’s not a clear path to growth in the for-profit sector – rather we think there will be continued turmoil and adaptation as for-profits and not-for-profits try to figure out their futures. Adtalem announced they are unloading Devry and Keller School of Management to get them out of their portfolio and over to Cogswell Education (if the deal goes through). Their focus will then turn to their nursing and trade schools, more specifically, their medical schools in the Caribbean and growing Adtalem Education in Brazil (which currently boasts over 110k students with further growth in sight). Apollo Education stopped trading on Nasdaq on February 1st last year, giving stockholders $10 a share as they went to a private equity firm for $1.1 billion. However, the most shocking adaptation we’ve seen so far was the announcement that Purdue University was purchasing Kaplan University for $1.00 (plus a management deal), transforming them from a for-profit institution to a public university. This move was essentially a way for Purdue to reach non-traditional online students without having to develop their own online programs, while helping Kaplan with their for-profit woes.

Our prediction is that this trend will continue. We will see more partnerships between for-profits and public universities along with others continuing to move to a non-profit structure. More schools will also explore investing outside of the US due to less regulated and more lucrative markets like Brazil. Heck, we might even see another giant fall.

1 Evaluation of Prediction:

This one is a solid yes, as 2018 was quite a tumultuous year in the for-profit sector. Just last week we received the news that Education Corporation of America, which owns Brightwood College and Virginia College, is closing the doors of 70 campuses across the US. So, as predicted, a giant has fallen in 2018. Additionally, we watched 18 for-profit schools close their doors for good and witnessed 7 mergers, including Bridgeport merging University of the Rockies with Ashford and moving them to a non-profit structure. Grand Canyon was also approved for non-profit status and many believe this will become the model for other for-profits to follow. In addition, the for-profit savior, Betsy Devos, bailed out the once leading accreditor ACICS after losing two-thirds of its members since 2016. If you recall, ACICS came under intense scrutiny since they were the accreditor for ITT Tech and many other shuttered for-profit universities.

Large for-profits like Adtalem Global (formerly Devry) continued to invest in overseas universities. Adtalem is moving their Ross University School of Medicine campus to Barbados and investing $10.5 million in a new research and pathology building for their Veterinary Medicine campus in St. Kitts. Laureate has sold off a handful of their overseas schools, but has refocused their efforts in Spain, Portugal, South and Central America. According to Laureate CEO, Eilif Serck-Hanssen, expanding in Brazil has been a top priority this past year.

1Canada and Australia Continue to Erode the US International Student Market Share

Our Prediction from January:

Canada and Australia have laid the groundwork to take advantage of the projected shrinking international student population in the US. According to the Times Higher Education, in the 2016/2017 academic year Canada has seen an 11% increase in the number of international students (192,000 total) and have a goal of 450,000 international students by 2022. Australia has over 480,000 students enrolled in the spring 2017 semester- a 15% increase over the previous year. On the other hand, the US only saw a 3% growth in the 2016/2017 year according to the Open Doors Report. And as discussed above, US schools saw a 7% decline in new international student enrollments in 2016/2017.

We all know the reasons… A new, not so immigrant friendly administration, gun violence across the country, and the cost of a US education, to name a few (read more in our blog – Canada’s Growing International Student boom). Canada and Australia are also investing in recruiting international students, offering them a friendly, less expensive place to get a high-quality education and perhaps even stay in the country after graduation.

We do not see much along these lines changing in 2018 which is why we are predicting that the US will continue to lose market share to Canada and Australia.

1 Evaluation of Prediction:

We admit it, this prediction was a gimmie. We have all seen the recent Open Doors data that paints the picture of the 2017-2018 school year and have felt the declines in 2018-2019 actual enrollment numbers. Challenges like the “Trump effect,” and US gun violence dominating the news have encouraged students to explore other options beyond studying in the US. Sitting at 490,000 international students our neighbors to the North have surpassed their 2022 goal of 450,000 international students; in Australia, they are seeing similar results as they reached 652,000+ international students in September- an 11% increase over the previous year.

According to the Canadian Bureau of International Education, 95% of international students recommend Canada as a study destination and 51% plan on applying for permanent residency! In addition, the top sending countries to both Canada and Australia are China and India, two countries that make up 50% of the international students in the US.

1J-1 Visa Programs will Continue to Weather the Storm

Our Prediction from January:

While there were no major changes to the J-1 visa program last year, it certainly was a bumpy ride. In the spring of 2017 a draft executive order was leaked to the press that showed the administration’s desire to eliminate or severely restrict J-1 programs that had a work component, including work and travel, au pairs and interns/trainees. What the administration may have underestimated was the industry’s resilience and bipartisan support. With a big push the #savej1 campaign attracted widespread support from both sides of the political spectrum, along with business from all over the US – you can visit the #savej1 website that champions and builds support for the J-1 programs.

As far as we can see there are still many challenges ahead, and smooth sailing is not in the forecast for the J-1 visa program. However, they will weather the storm and continue forward stronger and more resilient than ever.

1 Evaluation of Prediction:

We’re giving ourselves a win on this one. The J1 visa programs have continued to weather the storm, but whereas 2017 could be defined as a hurricane, 2018 was certainly a little calmer. After the BAHA executive order in 2017, and all the confusion about what impact this would have on the J1 programs, there were no large scares of that scale in 2018. Strong bi-partisan support for the J1 program has helped, as has vocal support from the business community that suffers when there’s a lack of seasonal workers typically supplied through these programs. Turmoil at the State Department continued with the firing of Rex Tillerson in March, but the appointment of Marie Royce s the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, a strong believer in exchange programs, has provided hope that her support for the programs will help them thrive and grown into the future.

1International US High School Enrollments will Continue to Thrive

Our Prediction from January:

International students coming to study at US high schools more than tripled between 2004 and 2016 to 82,000, as reported by IIE in the summer of 2017, and we only expect this trend to continue in 2018. Nearly half of all these students (48%) come from China alone, and high schools are starting to become even more welcoming to international students with 500 more schools opening their doors in the last three years. However, there will be challenges ahead, with increased competition not only in the domestic market but also from countries like Ireland, the UK and the previously mentioned Canada and Australia. Schools will struggle to attract the same amount of growth that has been seen in the past while Australia in particular is growing its market share, with the fastest growth rate over the last 3 years of 34%, compared to the USA’s 12%.

We expect the US to hold firm at the number 1 spot in 2018 and continue to grow its market share, but with stronger growth from other countries, the US may struggle to hold onto the top spot in years to come.

1 Evaluation of Prediction:

We’ll have to accept a half-win on this one, since we don’t have hard data. A report released in August 2017 from the Institute of International Education (IIE) found a “strong increase” in F-1 visa holders enrolling in US high schools. This steady increase started in 2014 and by 2016 the number of international secondary students in the US had tripled.  Although we can’t get our hands on any comprehensive data on current numbers of international high school students in the US, based on everything we can glean we think it’s still growing.   We are seeing increased attendance at industry events, as more K-12 schools are opting to recruit international students at the high school level. Also, as reported by the PIE News, at a recent EducationUSA forum event, many EducationUSA advisers have reported increases in the number of inquiries they receive from students looking to study in the United States at the secondary level. Hopefully 2019 will bring about some solid data to track this growing trend.

1Universities Increase Focus on Smartphone Addiction and its Impact on the Mental Health of Students

Our Prediction from January:

In recent years more studies have surfaced from around the globe exploring the impact that technology has on the mental health of college students. For example, a 2017 survey by San Diego State University professor of psychology and author Jean Twenge had findings discussed in an article in The Atlantic that iGen (those born between 1995 and 2012) “teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan.” Between social media, text messaging and internet browsing, smartphones in general get a lot of use on college campuses- and it’s beginning to turn a few heads.

In response to this issue boiling to the surface and the continued increase of smartphone use, we predict that this year many colleges and universities will buckle down and make addressing smartphone addiction a priority. The topic of mental health on campus in general seems ubiquitous these days, as more institutions incorporate mental health into orientation through resources like the International Student Insurance Mental Health Awareness video, and helplines like RAINN’s live chat and phone service. However, in 2018 we will see an added layer in the messaging as schools also raise awareness of phone use and how it could potentially impact the mental health of students.

1 Evaluation of Prediction:

After our International Student Insurance (ISI) team presented on mental health awareness at ten of the eleven NAFSA regionals, it was clear that the focus on mental health of international students has grown during the past year. Initiatives to reduce stigma around mental health have increased on US college campuses; not only are students becoming more aware of the topic,  but many advisors are making mental health awareness a priority. In fact, hundreds of schools around the US have requested our ISI mental health training program to use on their own campus.

When narrowing the focus to mental health and smartphone addiction,  there has certainly been an uptick in the number of studies and conversations around this matter. For example, one study in Turkey on Smartphone Addiction Level Among a Group of University Students found that 48.7% were at a high-risk level of smartphone addiction. In a separate article in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, research within the piece revealed that higher levels of smartphone use was associated with higher levels of stress and depression. Although various studies show that smartphone addiction is an issue, and some schools have started efforts to limit cell-phone use, a larger initiative to turn this information into a solution is not yet in place, so we get a half-right on this prediction.

1Touchless Interfaces Make a Big Leap Forward

Our Prediction from January:

“Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights.” By now we’ve all gotten used to the idea of asking Siri, Alexa, Google and Cortana for help recalling an obscure fact, sending a text message to a friend or playing our favorite song list. For 2018 and the coming years, the big leap for systems like Siri and Alexa will be understanding the context of a conversation and being able to thread conversations together to provide more insight automatically. What does this mean you can look forward to in the upcoming year? Expect to see these AI (Artificial Intelligence) front-ends start acting like real personal assistants, offering reminders about upcoming events or alerting you to things that you didn’t specifically schedule or configure.

1 Evaluation of Prediction:

Touchless Interfaces have made a major leap forward. In a single year, it has evolved from a neat feature on a smartphone into a technology that has integrated seamlessly with our daily lives. Google has invested heavily in touchless interface and is making great strides, as have Amazon and many others. The impact goes beyond convenience. For example, drivers can select a song via voice command, removing the need for a driver to take their eyes off the road, and in turn contributing to making the roads a safer place. Needless to say, touchless interfaces are here to stay and we nailed this prediction.

1More Schools Start to Use Mobile Messaging Apps

Our Prediction from January:

It’s no secret that mobile messaging apps are popular and only continue to grow. When it comes to apps like WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, KakaoTalk, and LINE, billions of people are using them, including prospective international students. WeChat currently accounts for almost 30% of Chinese daily mobile-use time, according to QuestMobile, and while emails average 90 minutes before they’re read, the average text message is read within 90 seconds, according to the wireless association CTIA.

With mobile messaging apps continuing to gain user approval and having the ability to quickly reach students around the world, we predict that more colleges and universities will also give their stamp of approval when it comes to integrating them into their recruitment strategy. Not only do we think institutions will embrace the world of mobile messaging apps to put themselves where students are, but we’re also predicting that WeChat will lead the way as the top mobile messaging app that schools turn to in 2018.

1 Evaluation of Prediction:

We’re so close on this one. The chatter around using mobile messaging within recruitment is there, and some schools are already using it to keep in touch with current students; but when it comes to fully integrating messaging into recruitment and communication strategies there are still a few things to be figured out. In fact, Emma Gilmartin, Head of Social Media at University of Glasgow and part of the university’s award-winning communications office, recently stated in an interview with InsideHigherEd that even they haven’t quite harnessed WhatsApp messenger as a tool to communicate with students. We talked specifically about how to implement WhatsApp into a recruiting strategy in a recent blog post, but its not yet fully arrived as a strategy for most schools.

Additionally, we proposed that more schools would embrace Wechat as a means to recruit students in China. While institutional interest is certainly there,  the trend hasn’t exactly caught on like we anticipated. Perhaps due to limitation instead of desire? Organizations outside of China find it difficult (if not impossible) to establish and maintain an account without the help of a representative in China, which can pose a big hurdle. Although some universities use partnerships that would allow a way around this limitation, it appears others have simply turned their focus in a different direction for now.

1Artificial Intelligence Will Be Huge

Our Prediction from January:

For years popular fiction has portrayed AI (Artificial Intelligence) as heartless killing machines. Think Blade Runner, The Matrix, The Terminator and Joshua from War Games. The future may hold a terrifying world of killer robots bent on our destruction, but for now- we’re safe. The current version of AI is happily checking your credit score for automated loan approvals, it’s building your personalized social media feed and helping your insurance company become more accurate in their underwriting. AI implementation will continue to grow at a fast pace and we’re going to see much of the growth in online customer service, autonomous vehicles and deep neural networks that can process medical research data more thoroughly than any human could. Although it might be a few years before popular AI movie scenarios become a reality, in 2018 we will definitely see AI as a major focal point in everyday life.

1 Evaluation of Prediction:

In 2018 we saw Google made profound strides in Artificial Intelligence technology; most notably, the jaw-dropping conversation between Google’s Assistant and a human over the scheduling of a hair appointment during the 2018 Google I/O festival. Although Google’s Assistant was a crowd-pleaser, throughout the year Artificial Intelligence did not make any other large headlines. 2018 wasn’t Artificial Intelligence’s big year but that year isn’t far off.

 

 

 

Posted in Email Marketing, For-profit industry, International Education, International Education Marketing, International Student Insurance, International Student Recruitment, Social Media Marketing, Technical Talk | Tagged , | Leave a comment


Could Speech Recognition Software Help Improve Driving Safety of Your Students?

Marc Andressen, an entrepreneur and investor best known for his Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, wrote an essay for The Wall Street Journal titled “Why Software Is Eating The World.” The essay, which was published in 2011, touched on many subjects. However, the primary focus was on the growth that was happening in the software industry. Software has continued its massive growth trajectory, becoming more heavily used in health care, national defense, agriculture, and much more.

One area of software that is growing rapidly and has the ability to not only improve lives, but also make the drive for your students a lot more safe, is voice recognition software in automobiles. Cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs have had a long history of software that runs the engines, controls safety features, entertains passengers, and monitors performance. Usually, it is a basic functionality that is for the most part hidden from the driver’s knowledge. Until now, with speech recognition and Artificial Intelligence software making leaps and bounds in their abilities, major car companies have been integrating with third-party software companies.

Today, two of the largest technology companies, Apple and Google, are integrating their unique platforms into most new automobiles on the road. Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto are stripped-down versions of their platforms that everyone uses on their cell-phones. They also include the ability to communicate by way of voice commands. Getting directions, making calls, sending and receiving message, and selecting the right playlist for the commute can all be done hands free. Eighty percent of college students text and drive according to an article at US News & World Report; with ae paradigm shift like this in the way drivers communicate with their automobiles via speech could result in a safer, smarter driving experience for your students (and you).

Apple and Google are not the only companies trying to improve the driving experience with an Artificial Intelligence system that recognizes speech. Amazon has recently announced an after market device called Echo Auto. The Echo Auto can be placed on the dashboard of any automobile, providing the car with a speech recognition interface along with access to Amazon’s AI platform, Alexa. Older automobiles built without a speech recognition interface can now easily upgrade simply by connecting the Echo Auto via bluetooth or USB. This means students on a tighter budget can also have a safer driving experience, without spending where money isn’t allocated.

A voice command interface will make the roads a safer place for drivers by removing the need for the driver to take their eyes off the road. Imagine your international students being able to order their favorite coffee drink or make dinner plans on their drive to campus, without ever having to take their hands off the steering wheel or eyes off the road. It certainly takes safety up a notch. Having an Artificial Intelligence system that recognizes speech inside your car is still a new and strange concept for many people. Regardless, as this technology continues to improve, we can also hope for more safe trips on the road.

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Many Summer Work Travel Programs in Need of More J-1 Participants

j1 summer work and travelThe J-1 visa provides individuals from around the world the opportunity to take part in a cultural work and study exchange. This program is beneficial to participants as it allows them to develop their professional skills and connections, improve their English language skills, and be fully emerged in a new culture. However, the benefit of the J-1 visa program is not just one sided, it also provides individuals inside the US with a host of benefits from added expertise in various fields, exposing and connecting individuals to other cultures, and perhaps the most relevant during this time of year: help with seasonal and temporary jobs through summer work travel programs.

Businesses in various locations in the United States are reporting not having as many J-1 visa workers as in years past for summer temporary work and in turn not able to fill many positions. It’s a problem that reared its head last summer in locations like the Wisconsin Dells, Cedar Point in Ohio, and Glacier National Park, and is back again this year in many locations like Hampton Beach, NH. The owner of Bernie’s Beach Bar, the Goat and Wally’s Pub, Al Fleury, said he applied for 75 J-1 visa students and received only 20. Hampton Beach State Park officials also stated they have seen the number of J-1 visa students drop from an average of 10 to 20 in previous years to only five this year, according to seacoastonline.

Beaches and pools throughout the US are also having a difficult time finding people to fill the 150,000 lifeguard jobs, and companies that typically hire J-1 visa participants have reported their J-1 visa scouts not as successful at filling spots as in years past, according to accuweather. New attempts to fill lifeguard positions include adding flexible hours and higher wages, lowering the minimum age to apply, and trying to recruit retirees that were previously lifeguards.

Despite some businesses seeing a drop in J-1 participant staff, Phil Simon, vice president of CIEE Work and Travel USA, which sponsors J-1 visa students coming to the US, said there is no evidence of a change in visa approval rates this year compared to last year, according to seacoastonline.

Many suggest the “drop” in the J-1 summer work and travel program participants is simply a shift of state or job interest and certain states and positions may feel a hit more than others.

The J-1 visa program allows about 300,000 foreign visitors from 200 countries to participate each year. View the most recent information on the number of J-1 visa participants by state and program.

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Implementing WhatsApp into your Recruitment and Communications Strategy

recruiting international students with whatsappAs WhatsApp grows in popularity around the globe it’s continuing to climb its way into recruitment strategies and communication plans at US colleges and universities. If you’re exploring new ways to refresh your international student recruitment or communication plan for the upcoming year, adding WhatsApp into the mix might be one area worth exploring.

WhatsApp is the second largest messaging app in the world with more than 1 billion people in more than 180 countries using it. Since calls and messaging are free through WhatsApp it’s an economical way for international students and scholars to keep in touch with friends and family back home.

Along with personal use on WhatsApp the opportunity for businesses to use it as a helpful tool is also growing. For example, more than 80% of small businesses in India and Brazil already use WhatsApp to communicate with customers.

How would you implement WhatsApp into your plan? Create a WhatsApp business account.

Auto-Reply and Templates: With a business account you’re able to create a business profile that allows students to view information on your school and communicate with you directly. To help battle the time difference and potential delay in response time, WhatsApp has features like automated replies and reply templates.

Labels: WhatsApp also allows you to list your contacts or chats with labels- if you want to organize your contacts by labeling them according to where they are in the enrollment funnel or based upon what type of student they are (prospect, current, alumni, etc.), it’s certainly possible. Labels allow you to send the right type of message to each of your contacts, keeping your communications customized and not spammy.

Language Support: WhatsApp supports 60 different languages meaning the ability to reach students in a variety of languages is possible (as long as your office also has the language support available).

If you’re on the fence about implementing WhatsApp into your recruitment and communications strategy keep in mind that since business accounts are free you can always test it out without the risk of wasting funds, and keep tabs on the statistics they provide to see how successful it is for your institution.

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Google Makes Strides with Speech Recognition AI

artificial intelligenceOne area of artificial intelligence (AI) that is making massive technological advancements is Touchless Speech Recognition AI. While most people had their first introduction to Touchless AI back in 2011 when Apple added Siri to its iOS5 mobile operating system, in 2018 it has rapidly become more user friendly and distributed onto more devices such as automobiles, websites, watches, and just about any system that would benefit from having a natural language user interface.

One of the most popular types of devices using Speech Recognition AI is the smart speaker. The most popular smart speaker, Google Home, was first released in the United States in November 2016. The device offers a large array of features including: playing music, news updates, and controlling a home thermostat all by using voice commands that interface with Google Assistant, an Artificial Intelligence system that recognizes natural language patterns.

The Google Assistant technology is continually making strides that put it ahead of other Touchless AI technologies. At the 2018 Google I/O, a developer festival that was held in May, Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, introduced Google Duplex, an AI system for accomplishing real-world tasks via phone conversations. On stage, Sundar Pichai goes on to demonstrate a jaw dropping conversation between Google’s Assistant and a human over the scheduling of a hair appointment that will have you believing in the singularity. The Google Assistant was able to have an incredibly human-like conversion with an actual person. It had the ability to pick up human nuances and even drop into conversation its own human nuances such as “mmhmm” and “aahh.”

Sundar Pichai continued to show the crowd of amazed developers and news journalists another example of a real world situation that Google’s touchless artificial intelligence technology handles swimmingly. The Google device, following a voice command to book a reservation at a local restaurant, calls a popular eatery to reserve a spot for four guests. The restaurant employee misunderstands the question about the reservation and side rails the conversation. Even after the conversation goes off topic, the AI was able to understand the conversation and give a human response to questions that didn’t relate to the original task of the call.

With all the advances in Speech Recognition AI, it might become increasingly harder to distinguish between man or machine the next time you have a conversation on the phone. On the bright side, Artificial Intelligence in the future might be able to take the sting out of talking with the in-laws.

Watch the actual demo and let us know what you think.

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Google Trends Shows US Recruitment Problem, and Canada’s Gain

Canada’s success in recruiting international students over the past few years, and the corresponding struggles in the US, have been well documented and much discussed.  There’s also been a lot of speculation and study of the reasons for the divergent paths of the two countries. Canada helps its case with a relatively low cost of living, welcoming and safe environment and ability to work during and after school, ultimately providing a path to permanent residency. The government adopted a formal International Education Strategy four years ago that set out a clear plan to recruit international students, with a goal to reach 450,000 international students by 2022.

In the US, the Administration’s anti-immigration, nationalist and protectionist policies set the opposite tone. H1B visas, some J categories and OPT have all come under attack, add in the travel ban, border wall, regular school shootings, and some of President Trump’s inflammatory tweets and you can quickly understand how the US looks less welcoming and has helped spike Canada’s growth.

Recent reports add data to back up these discussions. The Canadian Bureau of International Education reported in March that the total number of international students in Canada spiked 20% in 2017 to 495,525, blowing past the 2022 goal five years early. Meanwhile, the US State Department released the annual non-immigrant visa report in March, which showed a continued steep decline in F1 visas issued, from 644,233 in 2015, to 471,728 in 2016, to 393,573 in 2017 – a staggering quarter of a million less F1 visas issued in 2017 from two years earlier!

These reports are critical to show us what has actually happened, but they’re all after the fact. The IIE Open Doors Report, released in November of each year and relied upon as a primary bell-weather of the state of international education in the US, is actually over a year old by the time its released – reporting in November on the previous school year. What about evidence of what will happen to international student numbers, before it happens?  That’s where Google Trends come into play.

Google Trends is a publicly available tool showing the popularity of particular searches on Google. You can look at what’s currently trending, or you can look as far back as 2004 for historical data.  In this case, running just two quick comparisons is telling. Here’s the chart showing the number of students worldwide searching the terms “study in Canada” vs. “study in the USA” over the past 2 years:

You can dig as deep as you want within this tool – here’s a similar chart on the prevalence of the same two search terms but this time looking only at students within India, not worldwide, showing a similar divergence:

Potential international students are exploring their options in their desired country months or years before they actually arrive and can be counted in CBIE, State Department or Open Doors numbers. Like the recent QS Applicant Survey 2018, which surveys students on the factors they’re using to make decisions about their international education,  Google Trends helps us look at the top of the funnel, well before any government can track and report on those students. This is interesting to see and think about – but we should remember that the predictive value of Google search terms is uncertain. Many things can happen between the time a student searches Google and the time they arrive on campus. However, these simple charts do lend insight into what’s ahead – if these Google Trends data are accurate future predictors, we’ll see more progress for Canada, and less international students for the USA.

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EIC Completes Building a School in Guatemala

Envisage International is spending one week in Guatemala building an elementary school in the community of Patzalam Choacaman through School the World. We’ve partnered with IvyWise and Flywire for a joint total of 21 volunteers. Read on to hear our story unfold as a school is built.

Day 6: Yesterday was a day of mixed emotions: happiness, anticipation, excitement, joy, love and sadness were all there. The school and play ground were finally complete and it was time to celebrate and officially open the school at the dedication ceremony. As we pulled up to the school, the gravel road that’s normally lined with grass on either side was now wedged between two rows of cars. The entire community had been preparing for and waiting for us to join the ceremony. A tarp covered the space in front of the school where we spent the past week mixing concrete, and the shovels, buckets and wheel barrows had been replaced by small wooden chairs, a sounds system and beautiful banners for the event.

Once we were all seated the celebration started with beautiful thank you messages from members of the community, children, and the vice Mayor. By grade, the children then performed songs and dances and even brought members of the crowd up to join for a dance. Traditional and modern music alike filled the air as the children performed their meticulously orchestrated routines. After the performances it was time to cut the ribbon into the playground of the new school. The Vice Mayor of Santa Cruz del Quiche and Natalie from School the World did the honors and cut the shiny blue ribbon. There was a sea of applause and a mad rush through the fence gate as it swung open. Children ran to the monkey bars and began swinging right away, a smaller blue ribbon tied off the slide prompting a line to form halfway around the playground. After the slide ribbon was cut, a steady line of both children and volunteers made their way through and down the metal piece of equipment. All of the volunteers, school staff and leaders of the community eventually filtered into one side of the new school and were treated to a lunch of soda, grapes, apples, and tamales made by women in the community.

With full bellies we returned to the playground and soccer field where the children had also already returned. After another hour of playing and taking pictures it was time for us to head to Antigua for the evening. The sharing of goodbye and adios sparked many tears for the children and quickly spread to the volunteers and a few parents. There was a steady stream of hugs, some children coming back for three or four rounds. Final pictures were taken, and we loaded into our vans. We waved goodbye and headed back down the gravel road that had become so familiar to us during the week, for the very last time.

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EIC Nears the End of Their Journey

Envisage International is spending one week in Guatemala building an elementary school in the community of Patzalam Choacaman through School the World. We’ve partnered with IvyWise and Flywire for a joint total of 21 volunteers. Read on to hear our story unfold as a school is built.

Day 5: This was our last day working on the school and we only had half the day to get as much work done as possible. Our time was spent on the final coat of paint both inside and outside of the school, and finishing pouring the concrete on the playground. Members of the community mixed the concrete and poured it into buckets- from there we organized an assembly line to get the concrete from the mixing area into the fenced-in play area. All 21 volunteers had a job in line, and together we got the job done.

Knowing that our time together was dwindling, the children went around to each of us during breaks asking for our signature and home base location to be written with their notebook. We all signed, making accompanying pictures or notes. During recess we kept the students busy with hopscotch, soccer and learning to make flowers from pipe cleaners. Not knowing how to play hopscotch or make designs from pipe cleaners, Dana and Annemarie lead the pack by showing them what to do and having each child who wanted to follow. They caught on right away and filled their time jumping from one chalk number to the next and crafting beautiful flowers and other small designs.

Those who chose to play soccer were very familiar with the sport and ran down to the field right away. Not yet having official soccer goals, we marked either side of the “goal” with short sticks and let the game begin. As we continued to play we had many other students join in and it became more fun with each goal.

That day we ate lunch on the way to a local market where we bartered for beautiful hand-crafted goods like blankets, purses, bracelets, hammocks and jackets. The market was swarming with people and there was no shortage of local goods to take home to friends and family. After we all had full bags and empty wallets we headed back to our hotel to prepare for a delicious and engaging dinner with the mayor of Santa Cruz del Quiche.

Day five was a success and it’s with bittersweet anticipation we wait for the dedication ceremony. Check back on our blog and social media to see how we will celebrate the new school with the community.

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Educational Institutions Get Creative Around Limiting Cell Phone Use

There’s no question that the use of smart phones is wide spread throughout educational institutions in the US. A visit to any college or university campus provides insight into the fact that domestic and international students alike enjoy smartphone screen time. Fifty-four percent of college age students said that they use cell phones during class to text friends and browse social media, according to a Student Pulse survey by Top Hat. Although smartphones are convenient, especially for an international student trying to navigate their way around a new country while staying in touch with back home, many schools are starting to act when it comes to limiting cell phone use among students- and they’re finding some creative ways.

One such way is by offering students a reward for surrendering their phones during class. In a recent article by FacultyFocus it discusses how one college professor proposed to his students that if they were to bring their phones to the front of the class for the entire session they would receive extra credit. The professor was shocked when every student took him up on his offer, without even knowing how much extra credit they would receive.

In other locations, like at Hill Circuit Street charter school in Boston, they have started “locking-up” cell phones during school hours, according to a recent article from NPR. Each student receives a pouch they place their cell phone in at the beginning of each day. Students are not able to unlock their phones until the school day is complete. The school has reported seeing great results in this method including students being more engaged inside the classroom and social with each other. Although many students are finding it difficult to adjust to not having their phones during school hours, others like senior Yalena Terrero Martinez, are able to see the benefit of the new rule.

“Oh my gosh, all my friends would be like on their phones during lunch, and I was just sitting there staring out the window, waiting for a conversation to spark up,” Martinez says. “But now, like, we talk a lot more.”

Although excessive cell phone use on campuses does not have a one size fits all solution, many schools are getting creative and testing the waters to find a solution that works at their institution.

Is your institution doing anything to encourage students to put down their phone and start a conversation with friends?

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EIC Gets a Personal Home Tour on Day Four of Their School the World Trip

Envisage International is spending one week in Guatemala building an elementary school in the community of Patzalam Choacaman through School the World. We’ve partnered with IvyWise and Flywire for a combined total of 21 volunteers. Read on to hear our story unfold as a school is built.

Day 4: Each morning on the drive to the school everyone is productive in their own way: applying sunscreen, snacking on fruit, or organizing their work bag for the day. However, the most productive of the bunch during those 30 minutes has been Ramez. Every day Ramez jumps into the passenger seat of the van with a pen and paper and learns as many Spanish words as possible as he speaks with our driver, Otto. Now in the fourth day he’s able to carry full conversations with the children and other members of the community.

As we arrive at the school on day four the Spanish lesson for Ramez stops and we all head down the hill to the school site. The children of Patzalam, Choacaman have perfected the skill of giving a warm welcome- that morning each female volunteer was met with a hand-made flower headband constructed from paper and paint. We took it as an opportunity to speak and take pictures with the children before our work projects were assigned and started working away.

Bright blue paint joined the already pale-yellow walls and as we painted we were divided into groups to tour a home within the community. Each group had a unique experience during the visits, but the consensus was that it was a humbling experience.

During one tour we started in the kitchen where we helped make tortillas and place them on the wood burning stove. Some had more luck than others as we threw the dough from one hand to the other, mixing just enough water in to keep it from sticking to our hands, and hoping to get it thin enough without tearing. The thinner the tortilla, the better the cook.

We then moved to the bedroom which housed clothes, shoes, daily necessities and multiple beds made of wood and blankets. A wooden ladder propped up against a small crawl space in the ceiling lead us to the attic where corn covered the floor to dry. Outside the bedroom a small hall lead us to a room that housed what appeared to be a large fireplace with a wooden bench and metal bucket inside. The host family explained it was a bathing and birthing room. Behind the house was a covered open-air room where they washed dishes and did other daily tasks. Horses, cows and chickens completed the breathtaking view of the mountainous countryside that was their back yard. Each of the volunteers had an eye-opening experience seeing what daily home life was like in Patzalam Choacaman.

The rest of the day was filled with soccer at recess, followed by mixing more concrete and painting the school both inside and out. We raced against the clock to get as much done as possible before waving adios to the children as we drove away down the gravel road. Day four was complete and we looked forward to returning for day five.

Make sure you keep updated as we work to complete the school. Visit our blog daily or find us on social media via #EICSchoolTheWorld2018 and #EnviFlyWiseSTW.

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