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December 2014 • ISSUE #39
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International Education News

In our January 2014 New Year’s Newsletter, we made a number of predictions related to the world of international education, student recruitment and international student services. Some of these predictions were bold, others were more obvious, but in any event, now is the time to see how we did! We look back to the beginning of the year, and review each of these predictions below. How did we do?

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

Keith Clausen
for the Envisage International Team

2014 Predictions and Outcomes

“The number of international students in the US exceeds 850,000.”

We know this is an easy one to start with, since we currently stand at 819,644, but it still bears noting that numbers will continue to increase. Not at the 7% rate we saw in 2013 - we are calling for growth of around 4% (mainly because we think the blistering pace of growth from China will start to slow).

We’ll take this as a win, even though we clearly missed on the scale of growth. This year’s Open Door’s Report reiterates that the US is still the leading destination for international students around the world. With 8% growth, a new record was set at 886,052 international students in the US. Overall growth was higher than we expected, mainly because growth from China did not slow as much as we anticipated. In fact, China grew 16.5% over last year (which is down from 21.4% from the previous year), no easy feat when you are already #1 on the top places of origin! How long can it continue?

“Countries with strong home country scholarship programs increase the most.”

Sending countries with the biggest percentage growth in numbers will be those with strong home country scholarship programs, like Brazil, Iran and Kuwait. Read our blog post on the topic here.

Another fairly obvious prediction that we got right. It comes to us as no surprise that the fastest growing sending countries were those that have home country scholarship programs in place. Of all of the countries sending students to the US, here are the three countries with the highest percentage growths:

Kuwait 42.5%
Brazil 22.2%
Saudi Arabia 21%

The common denominator among these three countries is their strong sponsorship programs - Saudi Arabia with the King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP), the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program (BSMP) and the various programs administered by the Kuwaiti government. These home country scholarship programs provide a great boost to international education in the US and other destinations.

“Agents and agent-related businesses begin a multi-year ascendancy.”

NACAC’s decision to embrace agents in recruitment - however cool the embrace - has cracked open the door for schools and agents to burst through. Although it will take sometime before the true impact is felt, in 2014 we will see more and more schools lay out their agent strategies and begin to roll them out. We’ve already got evidence to support this one - take a look at the ICEF and AIRC Miami conferences, both with record school attendees and much more interest in general than in years past.

This was an easy prediction after NACAC’s decision in 2013 to allow the use of commissioned based agents. In 2014 NACAC released International Student Recruitment Agencies: A Guide for Schools, Colleges and Universities, providing schools guidance on how to engage with agents in a responsible manner. According to the 2014 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Directors, 19% of those surveyed currently use commission based agents and an additional 19% said that with NACAC’s changing viewpoint, they would consider using them. Also according to the survey, 25% indicated that “NACAC decision to lift the ban on the use of commissioned agents has led their institution to be more inclined to expand the use of agents to recruit students.”

“MOOCs die.”

Okay, maybe not fully dead, but no longer the lead in every discussion about technology in higher ed. Yes, MOOCs (massive open online courses) are pretty cool, when hundreds of thousands of people around the world can sign up for a free course from Stanford. And continuing online and technology innovation and integration into higher ed is a certainty. But although inspiring, MOOCs have no ultimate business plan or purpose, people fall off in droves, and other technology-based innovations will work better. The trends we really think will matter - the number of traditional schools offering full online degrees, both public and private, grows at a rapid pace in 2014; while all schools consider how to enhance their campus-based programs with online technology.

Well, MOOCs are clearly not dead, as this list of over 900 MOOCs offered by US universities can attest. But gone are multiple sessions on MOOCs at each international ed conference, gone is the media frenzy surrounding each new offering, and gone are the outsized expectations of MOOC students. The MOOC model may not thrive, but it has encouraged a lot of thought, experimentation and progress into digital education by many institutions. In her recent blog post on Inside Higher Ed, Allison Dulin Salisbury cites five impacts that MOOCs have had on higher education, including elevating institutional consciousness around the future of digital learning and creation of new space for experimentation. She summed it up well: “The MOOC hype may be dying, but its momentum has paved the way for increased experimentation with thoughtful and bold ideas for higher education in a digital era.

“Tuition will continue its upward trajectory, but in a more modest manner than in the past few years.”

Schools are finally starting to really feel the connection between tuition levels and enrollment, forcing international students to continue searching for financial aid, even though in many cases the opportunities are limited. Because of this increase, a growing percentage of international students will be supported by home government scholarships as well as college financial aid packages."

We got this one right. According to Trends in College Pricing 2014 published by the College Board, for four-year institutions, the increase in tuition and fees from the 2013/2014 to the 2014/2015 school year was 2.9% for in-state, 3.3% for out of state, and 3.7% at private nonprofit schools. According to the report, “in all sectors these price increases are lower than the average annual increases in the past five years, the past 10 years, and the past 30 years.

The deceleration was particularly noticeable in the for-profit sector, where tuition and fees increased by just 1.3%, actually lower than inflation which ran at 2.0%. It’s not surprising that the for-profit world would react more quickly, as they feel the price to enrollment correlation much strongly than traditional public and nonprofit schools.

“Affordable Care Act concerns fade away.”

Along with the rest of the country, international educators have been very focused on the impact of the ACA, as they wrestle with the best course of action for their schools and their international students. With very clear guidance late in 2013 that international students are exempt from the ACA for their first five years in the US (as discussed in our blog), international educators can breathe a sigh of relief and focus on what’s best for their students. J1 participants in non-student categories (for instance summer work and travel, au pairs, and interns) get a two-year exemption - read more here. And as ACA-compliant group insurance plans get more expensive, schools will be looking for other appropriate options for their international student insurance coverage, like individual plans.

This was a pie in the sky prediction, or at least very internally focused. Because for us, Affordable Care Act concerns have faded away entirely, as individual international students, with their exemption, are still free to choose the most appropriate insurance plan for them. However international educators continue to struggle with ACA concerns as they try to do the best thing for their international students. We’ve done webinars, articles, blog posts and many NAFSA sessions on the ACA, and we’ve heard every kind of question and concern. Most of the concern now seems to focus around two areas: should our school provide an ACA compliant group insurance plan to international students, and what can be done for international students that have become resident aliens by virtue of outstaying their exemption. We are happy to deal with these practical concerns, over the much more dire theoretical worries of the past few years.

“J1 insurance requirements are finally increased to $200,000 by US Department of State.”

We have been waiting for this change since 2009, when updates to the the regulations were first proposed. Everyone knows that the regs are outdated and a $50,000 policy maximum is inadequate, but there have been competing priorities in the regulation of the exchange world that have kept the sub-part A updates from happening. From discussions with State Department folks at various events, we think it will finally happen this year, with the required policy limits going to $200,000 along with higher evacuation and repatriation limits. As those changes appear, we will be sure to keep you updated.

We were half-right on this one. The surprise with the new J1 insurance regulations was not that they eventually came through, appearing at the beginning of October as part of the Exchange Visitor Program General Provisions, but that the new insurance levels were half of what we expected. With the original sub-part A comment period from 2009, the proposed insurance requirements were set at $200,000 for medical, $50,000 for evacuation and $25,000 for repatriation. It was widely accepted that these levels would remain the same, and there was very little comment or concern from most corners about these increased limited. However, when the new final rule appeared in October, these new levels will now be:

  1. Medical benefits of at least $100,000 per accident or illness;
  2. Repatriation of remains in the amount of $25,000;
  3. Expenses associated with the medical evacuation of exchange visitors to his or her home country in the amount of $50,000; and
  4. Deductibles not to exceed $500 per accident

The new regulations for insurance will come into effect on May 15th 2015, so any participant starting a program with a start date after this time will need to conform to the higher insurance requirements. Please see our full run down on the J1 insurance changes on our blog post for more information.

“Mobile optimization starts to catch up.”

Smartphones, tablets and other devices have forever altered our email and browsing behavior, but email and web marketers have a lot of work to do to adjust their strategies and content to fit the new delivery system. Almost 25% of our site traffic is from mobile devices, and rising rapidly every month. We will be spending a good portion of 2014 making sure that every visitor has the most appropriate and fulfilling experience possible when viewing our sites, and you will see this trend everywhere."

Mobile traffic to websites has boomed this year, as report after report has shown. Thanksgiving Day traffic - early Black Friday shoppers - accessed retail sites 50.1% of the time from mobile devices. Across our own sites, in 2014 the phone/tablet traffic has jumped to 35% of all visits. To accommodate this boom, designers are furiously redesigning sites to work well on smaller screens, in many cases in a “mobile first” approach, like us. By designing our sites with the idea of mobile-first viewing, we are able to deliver a fully functional and aesthetically pleasing experience to visitors on smart phones and tablets, and then scale up to the desktop smoothly and quickly. We anticipate that handheld device views will account for 50% of our traffic by the end of 2015. We develop and test each of our new sites across a variety of devices and utilize the developer tools built into modern browsers to simulate as many screen resolutions as possible.

“Authority and authorship dominate SEO discussions.”

Search engine optimization is a constantly moving target and promises to continue that trend through 2014. Authorship - attributing content to a particular person recognized by Google - and authority - the weight that Google gives to that person’s opinion - will be hot topics throughout the year, as people (including us) try to get it right in advance of Google giving these two items full weight in their algorithm. Read our authorship and authority blog post here."

Oops - 50% right and 50% dead wrong, as Google killed authorship completely! After collecting data for three years, while website owners struggled to properly implement “authorship” across their sites, Google determined that the resources needed to maintain the authorship data outweighed the value to the searcher, so it eliminated the “authorship” meta tag. In hindsight it seems clear that just including an authorship tag did little to confer the authority of the writer without more signals coming from the source.

Which brings us to site and page authority, which continues to be a major focus of Google and not likely to go away. One of the newest features in Google’s search results is a section called “in-depth articles.” This won’t come as a shock, but that new section contains in-depth articles about the subject you searched for. Again, Google is asking content creators to use Schema.org markup to embed meta data into articles in the hope that they will appear in this new section and garner more clicks. Will we follow the advice and go for it? Yes. Google admits that pages appearing in that section will be algorithmically determined but adding the appropriate meta tags will help them identify articles that we think represent our more in-depth content.

“Content continues to morph at light speed.”

For every business working hard to maintain a viable website, the number one rule has always been “Content is King.” Although we don’t expect this general maxim to change, what qualifies as quality content is going through extreme makeovers on a regular basis. Gone are the days of the resource page linking out to other sites; the thin, optimized landing page; the well-written, text-only article by an expert in the field. Content must now have video, infographics and interactive tools to even begin to catch a visitor’s attention and to win Google’s affection. 

We got this right, as the pace of change on content is blistering. Content is still King, and a well-written article that catches the attention of the searcher will continue to perform well. But you need to do a lot more than that. This year we made a large push to include more video content, more social content, and more interaction with visitors, and the effort is paying off. We’ve started refining our process for determining the quality of our pages by analyzing various factors of our organic search traffic; things like average time on page, bounce, exit and goal completion rates all help us identify pages that are underperforming and deserve a review for content and presentation. Adding new content and frequently updating older articles all send signals to Google that you are a source of information and as long as you can keep your visitors engaged, traffic will keep flowing.

In next month's newsletter, we will look forward to 2015 and again make our predictions, both meek and mild. Until then, have a wonderful holiday season!

Envisage International
224 First Street, Neptune Beach, FL 32266
info@ EnvisageInternational. com

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