2015 Predictions and Outcomes

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

1 International Student Numbers in the US Continue to Soar.

Our Prediction from January:

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

Evaluation of Prediction:

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

1Growth From China Continues to Slow

Our Prediction from January:

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

Evaluation of Prediction:

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

1Insurance Fades to the Background

Our Prediction from January:

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

Evaluation of Prediction:

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

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

1Domestic Recruiters Go International

Our Prediction from January:

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

Evaluation of Prediction:

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

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

1For-Profits Target International Students

Our Prediction from January:

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

Evaluation of Prediction:

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

1Online Recruiting, Agent Recruiting Goes Bananas

Our Prediction from January:

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

Evaluation of Prediction:

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

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

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

1States Get Creative with Affordability

Our Prediction from January:

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

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

Evaluation of Prediction:

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

1SSL Everywhere

Our Prediction from January:

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

Evaluation of Prediction:

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

1Mobile Starts to Dominate

Our Prediction from January:

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

Evaluation of Prediction:

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

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

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

1Visitor Engagement Rules.

Our Prediction from January:

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

Evaluation of Prediction:

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




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

InternationalStudent.com site speed

InternationalStudentInsurance site speed



This entry was posted in Affordable Care Act, International Education, International Education Marketing, International Student Insurance, International Student Lead Generation, International Student Recruitment, Newsletter, Search Engine Optimization, Technical Talk. Bookmark the permalink.

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