International Enrollment at Community Colleges Picks up Speed
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.
(Only) 20,000 More Chinese Students Study in the US
As the number of Chinese students in the US continues to grow, the percentage growth has been slowing for a variety of factors – read last month’s blog post for an overview. But this year the slowdown will hit the real numbers, which have grown by a low of 29,587 to a high of 41,568 every year for the past six years. There’s been a lot of discussion and analysis about the slowing growth rate, but that slowdown hasn’t yet meant a true drop in the number of net students coming to the US – this year, it will.
Popularity of ACA plans decline
Now that Affordable Care Act (ACA) group insurance plans have been in the marketplace for a few years, the effects of moving to this style of insurance plan are starting to take shape. Most notably, rates are increasing as insurers come to grips with plans that now have much richer benefits, and therefore higher utilization. With international students exempt from the individual mandate under the ACA, schools are increasingly looking at non-ACA compliant insurance plans as they are often more competitively priced and more appropriately tailored to the needs of international students.
We are also starting to see insurance carriers in the USA, traditionally offering just ACA style plans, now looking to offer non-ACA compliant plans either alongside, or in replacement of ACA plans. As schools become more educated about the differences and benefits of both plan options and do side-by-side comparisons, the popularity of ACA insurance plans will decline over the year.
Death of Mobile Apps vs. Responsive Sites
“Death” might be an exaggeration, but after the heady rush to code every possible site as a mobile app, the pendulum is swinging back as site developers build better sites with responsive layouts that work just as well on the device as they do on the desktop. Developing high-quality mobile apps is still an expensive endeavor and each new device released or update to the device operating system forces developers to write fixes and patches.
Contrast that process to building a single site that is responsive to the device used to access the site, and which deploys the correctly sized site and appropriate content. Responsive CSS frameworks like Bootstrap, Foundation and Skeleton have eased the pain involved in building beautiful sites, and by starting the development cycle from the smallest phone screens and working up to the desktop, we can now create sites that look great on every device imaginable.
US For-Profit Schools Continue to Internationalize
2015 proved to be a tough year for US for-profit colleges and universities, which lead to a big push towards international student recruitment into US campuses and the development of new campus locations overseas. For instance, for-profit giant DeVry Education Group reported total revenue down 4.5% in the third-quarter from the previous year while their international segment reported 10.3% growth.
Devry also reported a 176% new student growth rate in their Brazil division in the third quarter, with total student growth of 76%.With diving revenues and enrollments, and stricter regulations on US soil, US-based for-profit schools will continue their shift towards the international market, with Brazil remaining a primary in-country target despite the ongoing recession in Brazil as students and families are driven to less costly, private domestic education options.
Campus “Hot Topics” are Addressed and Battled
Topics like sexual assault, mental health, Title IX, and racial discrimination were in the news and engendered a lot of discussion in 2015, but 2016 will be the year that schools make real strides on these touchy topics. Title IX and mental health discussions are everywhere, and schools can no longer hide any dirty laundry. Universities will be ready to drop the veil on any potential areas of improvement, and also armed with the necessary resources to turn any of these areas of weakness into areas of strength. We are part of this trend, as we plan to follow up our Mental Health Awareness video and NAFSA sessions with a similar treatment of sexual assault on campus.
The use of Commissioned Agents will Continue to Increase in 2016 in the U.S.
We admit, we predicted this in 2015 as well, but it is kind of a no-brainer with the NACAC decision from a few years past. We attended ICEF in Miami in December, their largest North American event ever. They saw an overall increase in attendees by 9% and first timers increase of 22% with 71% of the educators coming from U.S. schools. We just don’t see the trend in using agents slowing down. Especially if you take into account that the majority of the competing countries like the U.K. and Australia have been using agents for years, and the vast majority of students from China as an example, use agents to study abroad.
PHP 7 Hits the Scene
Early benchmark tests indicate that PHP 7 is twice as fast and uses just half the memory of version 5.6. In developer speak, this is a RBD (Really Big Deal). To the rest of us, it means websites can be much faster, and much cheaper.
Although many companies and webmasters skipped the upgrade to PHP 6, as there wasn’t a clear enough benefit to all of the update work, we think that same analysis will push people to adopt PHP 7. Costs of RAM and more CPU cores are the main factors in pushing up the price of your monthly hosting bill. PHP 7 (should) help reduce both of those requirements and many companies will be able to reduce the cost of hosting without any negative impact on the speed of the server. Even if you don’t save money by reducing your server capacity, your site’s visitors will enjoy the speed boost and Google will ratchet up your site rank. Win-win.
Dependent insurance hard to come by in 2016
Dependent insurance coverage has come into the spotlight in 2015, and we expect this trend to gather pace into 2016. Coverage for dependents has always been expensive on insurance plans, but now with ACA plans requiring full maternity, wellness and pre-existing condition coverage, many school insurance plans are suffering from much higher utilization in these areas and therefore higher premiums at renewal.
As insurers look to reduce their risk, dependent coverage is usually the first to go on these plans. So dependents are left to look for their own coverage, which is not always easy. In some cases, the available options for dependents require the primary student to enrol as well, and many individual student plans have also removed dependent coverage – so dependents are left to purchase either a stand-alone major medical plan or a standard travel medical insurance plan.
More Colleges and Universities Adopt Instagram
As the attention span of the world continues to shorten it’s no wonder that Instagram reached 400 million users in 2015 (and is estimated to reach 106.2 million by 2018) – in just a split second you’re able to receive an update on those you follow without having to read a single word (with the exception of a few #CleverHashtags). Despite this social platform having the means to appeal to the masses, data continues to support that more traditional means of communication like email and phone calls prove to be more effective in reaching students. However, since 90% of Instagram users are under the age of 35 and 75% are outside the US, in 2016 more colleges and universities (especially international student offices) will jump on the Instagram bandwagon as the social platform continues to grow amongst their target market.