The new year is here, and we are excited for what it has in stored. Here are the top 10 international education predictions for 2015 – read on and let us know what you think:
1. International Student Numbers in the US Continue to Soar
The number of international students in the US will exceed 950,000 in the 2014-2015 academic year. That’s a big number, but we think its possible as China (though slowing – see below) will continue to send more students, while major growth will come from countries with a strong home country government scholarship program like Brazil, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabia KASP program will expand further (Saudi Arabia now is the #4 sender of students to the United States), while Brazil’s Science Without Borders program announced 100,000 more scholarships this year for STEM students (Brazil is currently the #10 sender of students to the US).
2. Growth From China Continues to Slow
The juggernaut can’t go on forever. There are nearly 300,000 Chinese students studying in the US, more than the total number of international students in all but a handful of countries. We called for a slowing of growth last year and got it, but not to the extent we expected. This year, we expect growth in the numbers from China to drop into the 10-12% range, down from over 16% this past year and 21% the year before. A few reasons – a cooling economy, cooling relations (as a result of retrenched communist party control, including significant travel restrictions), as well as the continued difficulties for US campuses to absorb such large numbers from a single country.
3. Insurance Fades to the Background
Insurance has been on the front burner in international education, as the ACA and J1 regulations have had schools and participants variously concerned, engaged and paying attention. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve enjoyed the limelight – but now we expect insurance to fade back as schools, exchange organizations and insurers all have a much clearer picture of the requirements and expectations. With international students exempt from the ACA for their first 5 calendar years in the US, and new J1 visa insurance regulations going into full effect in May, regulatory uncertainty is behind us for a while.
4. Domestic Recruiters Go International
The lead generation/student recruitment industry targeting domestic US students is highly evolved and technology-enabled, with live call transfer, immediate response, as well as sophisticated lead tracking, scrubbing and scoring. As the domestic market becomes more regulated and tougher to thrive in, 2015 will see more of these “domestic” recruiting and lead generation companies commit to international education in a bigger way. Companies like Cappex and Education Dynamics will look to take their domestic models and internationalize them.
5. For-Profits Target International Students
This prediction is tied directly to #4 above, whereby a previously profitable domestic business looks to beef up revenue from international sources. While the for-profit sector will continue to come under scrutiny and even continue to see schools sold off, closed down and turn to non-profit status, you will see the ones that are trying to survive (yes the big ones) begin to compete more aggressively for the pool of international students.
6. Online Recruiting, Agent Recruiting Goes Bananas
Continued growth in international students flocking to the US, coupled with a difficult financial picture for many schools, will drive more colleges and universities to adopt non-traditional recruiting methods and online marketing strategies. As we know, in 2014 NACAC laid out their International Student Recruitment Agencies: A Guide for Schools, Colleges and Universities. Colleges and universities have now had 2014 to digest the report and integrate agents into their strategies for 2015 and beyond. We saw proof of this in Miami at ICEF 2014, having yet again their best attended Miami conference to date. From an online marketing perspective, we are seeing tremendous growth in our school partners as well as the amount of interest in schools coming on board in 2015. We are seeing the effects of the growing numbers of international students that want to study in the US in our own site traffic numbers, showing dramatic year over year growth (Commerce Alert: Join our free webinar to learn about Featured School packaging and pricing on InternationalStudent.com, which will cover social media, email marketing, Google Hangouts, school success stories and more: RSVP for the Webinar).
7. States Get Creative with Affordability
President Obama, inspired by a new Tennessee plan, has announced a proposal to provide free community college tuition for two years to anyone in the country, regardless of age. Just as the Affordable Care Act looks a lot like what Massachusetts did a few years earlier, this federal proposal also seems modeled on the exciting new world of college affordability in Tennessee. And though the Obama proposal is unlikely to go anywhere considering the current political climate and makeup of Congress, simply putting the proposal out there will spur other states to look creatively at college affordability programs.
Not that any state program will change the overall financial picture for international students – the US is not on a path to become the next Finland (which has just reversed an earlier decision to start charging tuition to international students). While a greater number of students will rely on home country sponsorship, personal and family support will continue to make up the largest percentage of student funding.
8. SSL Everywhere
You will start to see SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) everywhere – that means the little lock icon and yellow url that lets you know you are on a secure site. Between data protection issues as we go from one high-profile hack to another, and Google’s announcement late in 2014 that secure pages will enjoy a slight increase in ranking signals, webmasters will be transitioning their non-secure sites to SSL in droves.
9. Mobile Starts to Dominate
Mobile and tablet traffic will to continue to grow and there will be a rush to convert non-responsive sites to accommodate those visitors. Google has already added the words “Mobile-friendly” to the search results pages for mobile devices. Emails will also need to look good on phones, tablets and other internet connected devices, and mobile-friendly emails will become the norm in 2015.
10. Visitor Engagement Rules.
Visitor engagement and site speed will become increasingly important aspects of a website’s SEO signals. Faster sites that keep visitors engaged (think content, layout and navigation) will continue to rank well and sites with a poor user experience will suffer as Google refines its algorithms).
We will be watching all of these trends in 2015, and we’ll make sure to let you know how we did at the end of the year.