Fake News on Facebook in the New Year

Fake News on Facebook in the New YearWe ended 2016 with fake news on Facebook as a common occurrence. We have all seen it, and we might have even accidentally clicked on it from time to time. However, 2016 is long gone and 2017 brings with it questions on what type of impact these fake news articles are having and what the solution to end them will be.

If you’re not familiar with the recent fake news hoaxes on Facebook, we’ll catch you up. In the past, fake news articles, often known as click-bait, were more of a hassle than harm. However, the issue of fake news articles and hoaxes has really come to the forefront after the US presidential elections.

Many have stated that the elections were swayed in Donald Trump’s favor due to fake new articles appearing on Facebook. During the final three months of the US elections fake news articles had more engagement on Facebook than articles from major news outlet like the New York Times and Washington Post, according to data analysis by BuzzFeed News. They estimated that nearly 8.7 million shares, reactions and comments were made on fake news articles compared to approximately 7.4 million shares, reaction and comments on major news outlet articles.

A few top ranking fake election stories include:

  • “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement”
  • “WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS… Then Drops Another BOMBSHELL! Breaking News”
  • “IT’S OVER: Hillary’s ISIS Email Just Leaked & It’s Worse Than Anyone Could Have Imagined”

However, a Facebook spokesman told BuzzFeed News that top stories do not reflect the overall engagement on the platform.

“There is a long tail of stories on Facebook,” the spokesman said. “It may seem like the top stories get a lot of traction, but they represent a tiny fraction of the total.”

The BuzzFeed News study surfaced after Facebook’s Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg stated on November 12 that “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.”

Two days after the BuzzFeed News study was released Mark Zuckerberg released further information on this topic.

“The bottom line is: we take misinformation seriously.” Zuckerberg stated “Our goal is to connect people with the stories they find most meaningful, and we know people want accurate information. We’ve been working on this problem for a long time and we take this responsibility seriously. We’ve made significant progress, but there is more work to be done.”

In efforts to rid Facebook of fake news and hoaxes, as of December, Facebook has stated they’re working on these four key areas:

  • Easier reporting: Allowing users to report a hoax will help Facebook detect fake news articles. They’re currently testing several ways to make this process as easy as possible.
  • Flagging stories as disputed: Facebook has started to work with third-party fact checking organizations. If these organizations find articles to be fake, the article will be flagged to readers as disputed.
  • Informed sharing: They’re currently testing the link between people who read an article without re-sharing it and misleading information within that article.
  • Disrupting financial incentives for spammers: When it comes down to it, spammers with financial motives stand behind fake news on Facebook. Facebook’s answer to this is the following: “On the buying side we’ve eliminated the ability to spoof domains, which will reduce the prevalence of sites that pretend to be real publications. On the publisher side, we are analyzing publisher sites to detect where policy enforcement actions might be necessary.”

With this plan in place, hopefully we can count on seeing less fake news on Facebook in the new year and count on seeing more reliable articles from this social media platform.

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Top 10 International Education Predictions for 2017

1 ACA Is Here To Stay (in substance, at least)

With the relentless drumbeat from President-Elect Trump to repeal the Affordable Care Act throughout our election season, and the newly-formed Republican-controlled Congress already putting in place a plan to repeal the ACA, it could seem a foregone conclusion that the ACA will be swiftly repealed as promised. But with 20 million Americans newly covered by insurance, it will be incredibly difficult to pull that coverage back, and Trump and Congress have not indicated any desire to do so. In addition, Trump has commented that he likes the “popular” pieces of the ACA – allowing dependents to stay on their parents plan to age 26, and covering pre-existing conditions. The problem is, once you offer blanket pre-existing condition coverage to everyone, the unpopular piece of the ACA – the individual mandate that requires everyone have coverage – becomes necessary from an insurance underwriting perspective. Insurance can’t work if people can just choose to buy coverage once they become sick or injured, you need to share that risk with healthy people as well.

There will be a loud “repeal” effort, and a quieter and much slower “replace” effort, and the ACA will go away in name. But the pain of actually taking coverage from people and the difficulty and cost of keeping pre-existing condition coverage without the individual mandate means that the healthcare landscape in the USA has changed forever. Some pieces will change as the new leadership tries to make it look different – but a whole lot of it will still look the same, a year from now.

 1For-Profit School’s Revenue and Enrollment Will Continue to Decline

Things are looking up for the embattled for-profit education sector. According to Senator John McCain: “Undoing the Obama Administration’s eight-year war on for profit colleges through onerous rule making and regulatory actions should be a priority for the next Administration and Congress.” So it is no coincidence that stock prices for the two largest for-profits, Apollo Education (up 14%) and Devry (up 33%) have gone up since November 8th. However, it will take a bit more before the sector starts to see the new administration’s policies having a positive effect on enrollments and revenue, and 2017 will not bring the major rebound investors are apparently anticipating. What factors will hold it back?

    • Ongoing investigations and lawsuits – Laureate Education is under investigation for deceptive advertising practices in their home state of Minnesota, and they’re subject to a class action lawsuit filed in Ohio against them. Devry just settled a $100 million suit filed by the FTC. It is not clear if others will file suits or if other investigations will begin in 2017.
    • Dismantling of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools – The leading accrediting agency for the for-profit sector was recently dismantled and lost an appeal in December. Schools now have 18 months to find a new accreditation. In the meantime, they must let all their students know about the loss of the accreditation. Most will find new accreditation, but some will not and will not survive. And telling students that their school has lost its accrediting body can’t help enrollment.
    • Eliminating Mandatory Arbitration – In July 2017 the new arbitration rules go into effect, essentially removing the mandatory arbitration rules used by many for-profit schools. This will make it easier for students to sue their school if they feel mislead. Provided the new administration can’t or doesn’t undo this change, it could open the door for more suits against the sector.
    • Reputation – The for-profit sector has taken a reputational blow because of the attention from the closings if ITT Tech and Corinthian as well as the smaller for-profits that have closed their doors due to the enhanced regulations. It will take some time for the industry to repair its reputation and for the industry to cleanse itself.

 1No Drastic Changes in Store for the J1 Visa Program

Rhetoric during the Presidential campaign certainly did not show much support for J1 programs, and in some cases even targeted them. While there is discontent and uneasiness from many corners of the cultural exchange world stemming from this attitude of the new Administration in the US, in the short to medium term there will be very little impact to the programs and how they are run. First, to make any widescale changes to the J1 visa programs would take time – potentially up to 1 or 2 years, maybe even 3, to push any changes through. Second, the appointment of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State could bode well for how the programs will be viewed moving forward. While he was CEO of ExxonMobil, the company was an active supporter of international exchanges and is even a State Department designated sponsor, so he likely knows the value these programs bring. While this gives us some insight, we will know more as he makes appointments to key staff positions.

1Canada Benefits at the Expense of the US

For economic and political reasons, Canada will continue to grow its international student population rapidly, while growth in the US will stagnate, as students from China, India and other countries choose Canada over the US.

    • The latest Open Doors Report reflects the drying up of scholarship and state sponsorship, as the percentage of students in the US funding their own education jumped from 63% to 67%.
    • The strengthening dollar has made it much more expensive to study in the US than it was one, two or five years ago. Although Canada’s currency has also strengthened against some currencies, it has not been to the same level as in the US, making it more affordable.
    • The uncertain political climate and xenophobic messaging from President-Elect Trump will start to deter students from studying in the US, and more students will consider other destinations, with Canada looking as a natural alternative and comparatively much more welcoming.
    • The overwhelming top sending countries to the US are also the primary sending countries to Canada, and with a more welcoming atmosphere cheaper currency, and a cohesive national strategy to grow enrollment, Canada will see large gains this year in their international enrollments, including many students that also considered (and rejected) the US.
    • Canada has been relaxing it’s work and citizenship restrictions for international students, now making it a more favorable choice when comparing it to the US. Not only can international student student work off-campus immediately without a work permit, but new legislation has been introduced that would make it easier for international students to gain citizenship upon completing their degrees. With the option to work and possibility of gaining citizenship upon completing their degree, Canada is going to be a no-brainer for many international students who are looking beyond their degrees.
    • Finally, US students are applying to Canadian schools in droves, which will help drive up Canada’s numbers. For instance, according to recent news reports, the University of Calgary has received 130 percent more US applicants than last year, and University of Toronto 70 percent more.

1Facebook Live Will Gain Popularity Among Educational Institutions and Businesses

We all know that video marketing is huge. However, we also know there’s a lot of work around creating a video and making sure it gets out into the world for people to see. Facebook Live allows you to incorporate videos into your marketing plan without having to allot time for editing (take or leave this as a positive) and allows them to be seen by an audience immediately. Additionally, Facebook Live lets you see how many viewers are watching, along with the names of the viewers and their comments. With all of the recent advertisement around Facebook Live it’s easy to see that there’s a large plan in place for this new media and it’s hard to ignore. Do we think all the extra marketing dollars behind Facebook Live will pay off? Yes.

1ESL Programs Increase Marketing and Recruiting Dramatically

2016 was not kind to the English as a second language market in the US. In a fall 2016 flash survey conducted by EnglishUSA, approximately 75% of those surveyed saw a decrease in fall enrollments, 8% remained flat and 15% saw an increase. This is up significantly from 2015 when 45% saw a decrease.
In another survey on the use of agents, 74% of those that responded use agents to help them recruit. The majority of those reported less than 10% of students were the result of using agents.
With the significant decline in enrollments and much uncertainty in the industry, those that want to reverse the trend will rely more heavily on non-traditional and traditional recruiting methods like agents, online marketing as well as recruiting fairs. To survive and grow, ESL programs will have to work hard to reach new students. Making the case: two of the respondents in the EnglishUSA survey whose Fall enrollments had grown were asked how they had grown their business; the first credited the increase to “improved web site and new agents” and the second to “aggressive promotions & marketing campaigns.”

1Despite Efforts, Fake News Will Still be Widespread on Facebook

Coming across spam and clickbait articles disguised as news on Facebook has become a normal occurrence for users. However, since sixty-six percent of Facebook users get news on site, this normality has recently become a pressing issue. In November, Mark Zuckerberg made a statement that Facebook takes this issue seriously and they’ve been working to resolve it. However, he also stated that “We’ve made significant progress, but there is more work to be done.” This statement along with the complexity involved in screening content lead us to believe that although strides will be made in 2017, clickbait, spam and scams on Facebook are not yet a thing of the past.

1Study Abroad Growth Continues to Slow, More Students Studying In Latin America and Asia

Study abroad grew only 2.9% last year, and we think that growth will be even slower this year and that the destination make up will change. With terrorist attacks in Europe and the Middle East, Brexit in the UK, Western Europe elections shifting away from open borders, and a strong dollar, we think that there will be a shift where more students will consider Asia and Latin America as prime destinations, and we’ll see declines in students choosing Europe.

With a third of all US study abroad students studying in the UK, France and Spain, a large dip in travel to Europe will certainly impact the growth overall. And the question is, will this deter students to study abroad, or will they choose a different destination? In our estimation, we think that while this will deter some families, a strong dollar might help to counteract this and continue to entice others – but to new corners of the world that they may never have considered before.

1The Rise of Software Containers

Containerization software has been around for some time, but 2017 will be the year it becomes a standard tool in a software developer’s toolbox. With containerization, the idea is to virtualize and distribute applications, running multiple isolated systems know as containers, on a single host – making it much easier to develop, maintain and scale software applications.

In the world of containerization software, Docker has become a household name. Docker is an open source project that uses containers to wrap a piece of software in a completely isolated environment. This guarantees that the software will always run the same and you can dynamically change your application, regardless of its host environment. Build, ship, run.

1Internet of Things (IoT) Will Become Mainstream

2017 will mark the real start of the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution. From something as simple as turning your living room lights on and off to controlling the traffic patterns of an entire city, the age of connected devices is here. Chances are in 2017 that you’ll be using a thermostat, a security camera or some other IoT device that you control with a phone or tablet. Gartner puts the current number of IoT devices at around 6 billion, but predicts that by 2020, we could have up to 20 billion devices connected to the internet in one way or another.

Posted in Affordable Care Act, Chinese students, Facebook Marketing, International Education, International Education Marketing, International Financial Aid, International Scholarships, International Student Insurance, International Student Recruitment, Newsletter, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media Marketing, Technical Talk | Tagged , | Leave a comment


2016 Predictions and Outcomes

Like in years past, this January we made ten predictions related to the world of international education. Now that the year is almost over, lets revisit these predictions and see how we did!

1 US For-Profit Schools Continue to Internationalize

Our Prediction from January:

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.

Evaluation of Prediction:

Correct!  2016 has proved to be a tough year on the for-profit industry with large players (like ITT Tech and Corinthian) closing up shop due to government oversight and regulations. While many saw this coming, we predicted many other for-profits would follow in the footsteps of Devry Education and head overseas.

Devry has seen success overseas, especially within Brazil. Devry Education ended their fiscal year on June 30th with Devry Brazil’s revenue up 42.8%. Had the Brazilian Real not declined, revenue increase would have been closer to 57%. In addition, their medical international schools saw a modest 3.8% increase.

Moving on to Apollo Education, owners of the University of Phoenix, according to Greg Cappelli, Chief Executive Officer, “Internationally, despite the impact of Brexit in the UK and other challenges, we continue to grow and now serve over 175,000 students at Apollo Global.”  Apollo Global includes BPP in London (accounting for half of Globals revenue in 2016), Open Colleges, Australia, Career Partner in Germany as well as schools in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, South Africa, India and online schools like Western International University.  While revenues for University of Phoenix shrank by 32% from 2015 to 2016, revenue for Apollo Global grew by 11%.

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

Our Prediction from January:

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.

Evaluation of Prediction:

Wrong! But not far off, with total growth in raw numbers of 24,507, the lowest increase since the 2008/2009 school year.  According to the 2016 Open Doors Report, the number of Chinese international students in the United States stands at 328,547, up 8.1% from last year’s total of 304,040.  From a percentage standpoint, there are 8 other countries on the list of top 25 sending countries with growth rates higher than China’s.

Our blog post last year looked at China’s economic slowdown and other factors impacting the trend of Chinese students coming to the US, and the analysis still applies. Schools continue to grapple with the fallout of such large numbers from one country – like how to integrate such large numbers of Chinese students, and how to support them properly on all types of issues, from housing, to academics, to mental health. This article in the Wall Street Journal reviews some of the challenges.

1Popularity of ACA Plans Decline

Our Prediction from January:

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.

Evaluation of Prediction:

Correct! Over the course of the last year, we have seen Affordable Care Act compliant insurance plans continue to struggle and decline in the market. As we highlighted in our blog post in June, many of the largest insurers in the USA, like UnitedHealthcare and Aetna, have struggled with the ACA exchanges in general. In international education specifically, we have seen insurers struggling with the richer benefits and higher losses, and in turn we are seeing premiums rocket. As international students are exempt from the ACA for 5 calendar years, there is rising popularity in ACA-exempt plans that are tailored for international student and still offer excellent coverage for students.

1Death of Mobile Apps vs. Responsive Sites

Our Prediction from January:

“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.

Evaluation of Prediction:

Wrong! We exaggerated when we said mobile apps would die when compared to developing responsive sites. That never happened. However, better CSS frameworks and javascript libraries lessen the need for both a mobile app and a website. The mobile browsing experience is rapidly improving and as handheld device resolution increases every year, it puts the focus on developing a robust and functional single web presence, as opposed to the current landscape of developing for iOS, Android and the web.

1International Enrollment at Community Colleges Pick up Speed

Our Prediction from January:

After 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.

Evaluation of Prediction:

Correct! Well, mostly. We saw an increase in the total number of international students studying in the US, and community colleges saw a 1.4% increase (to 95,376 international students). This is still a bit below the peak that community colleges saw in the 2008-2009 school year where there were 97,000 international students enrolled at their institutions. However, they are moving in the right direction and if they continue to spread their value proposition of less expensive tuition, smaller class sizes and the ability to transfer into 4-year schools, we expect the number to continue to climb.

1Campus “Hot Topics” are Addressed and Battled

Our Prediction from January:

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.

Evaluation of Prediction:

Correct! This year we saw a lot of conversation about hot topics such as Title IX, sexual assault, mental health, etc. More and more attention is being directed at these issues, which is supported by the overwhelming discussion we saw at the NAFSA regional conferences. We presented at nine NAFSA regionals on sexual assault and at five regionals on mental health, and most of these sessions had tremendous turnout. But we also saw many other sessions on similar topics like mental health and Chinese students, sexual assault for study abroad, and more. As the numbers of international students in the US continues to soar, it’s not surprising that we continue to turn more attention to supporting these students across these difficult topics.

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

Our Prediction from January:

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.

Evaluation of Prediction:

Nailed it! This was an easy one as three years has passed since NACAC begrudgingly gave their members the okay to use commissioned agents in their international recruiting efforts. In a survey earlier this year conducted by Bridge Education and StudentMarketing, 37% of colleges and universities reported using agents to recruit international students, and 34% of those have started using them just in the last three years. In addition to the 37% actively using agents, another 12% indirectly use agents through their bridge or pathway programs.

1PHP 7 Hits the Scene

Our Prediction from January:

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.

Evaluation of Prediction:

Correct! PHP 7 hit the scene this year and the promises of faster code execution times and reduced memory requirements have all come true. Doing the actual upgrade was straightforward, we tested it across our development servers until we had each of the steps condensed into an action plan. Some small code changes were needed, but overall, it was a very easy upgrade. The long-promised PHP JIT (Just In Time) Compiler didn’t appear in the 7.1 release, so we’ll need to wait a little bit longer for the next performance boost. It’s still too soon to judge how widely adopted the new version will become, but early indications are very promising. According to W3Techs, 2.1% of the sites surveyed which run on PHP are now using version 7, which is up from their reported < .1% which were utilizing version 7 at this time last year.

1Dependent Insurance is Hard to Come by in 2016

Our Prediction from January:

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 enroll 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.

Evaluation of Prediction:

Correct! Dependent insurance is still very hard to come by for many families who are accompanying a parent or spouse studying in the USA. Dependents are expensive for insurers to cover, particularly under Affordable Care Act plans which cannot exclude benefits like maternity and wellness expenses, benefits that many dependents use regularly. The solution for many carriers has been to remove dependent coverage entirely from their school insurance plans, leaving many dependents relying on short-term or travel plans. Read more on this topic along with international insurance trends and best practices.

 

1More Colleges and Universities Adopt Instagram

Our Prediction from January:

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.

Evaluation of Prediction:

We were half-right on this one. Although Instagram was not able to confirm the exact number of colleges and universities that adopted their platform this year (#bummer), it’s become more difficult than ever to find an institution that’s not on Instagram. Additionally, institutions that have had an account for a few years are no longer just “on” Instagram, schools are implementing intentional brand awareness and recruitment efforts on Instagram and other social media platforms. Since 75% of Instagram users live outside the US, it makes sense that institutions use Instagram as a resource when trying to boost international enrollment. However, what we have not seen is an increase in Instagram accounts specifically created for international student offices. Many institutions use their general school account and in some cases a general admission services account.

Do you need Insta-piration on how you can use Instagram for recruitment at your institution? Check out the admission services Instagram accounts for University of Michigan, Arizona State, Boston University or Purdue University.

 

 

 

Posted in Affordable Care Act, Chinese students, International Education, International Education Marketing, International Student Insurance, International Student Lead Generation, International Student Recruitment, Newsletter, Online marketing, Social Media Marketing, Technical Talk | Tagged | Leave a comment


New Recommendations from NACAC on the Use of Commissioned Agents

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

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

In other words:

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

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

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

 

 

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Why Your International Student Office Should Have A Social Media Presence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PHP 7 Has Arrived

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 to 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.

Posted in Affordable Care Act, International Student Insurance, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


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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