|Headquarters||Vienna, Virginia, USA|
|Subsidiaries||Congressional Youth Leadership Council, National Young Leadership Forum, International Scholar Laureate Program, National Young Scholars Program|
Envision EMI, LLC is a privately held, for-profit education company that, as Envision Experience, creates, markets and runs a number of youth leadership programs under various names. The company develops curricula for, markets, manages, and produces a variety of educational experiences, including leadership and career-oriented education programs, for elementary school through college-age students. The company is based in Vienna, Virginia and runs its organizations' programs across the world.
Critics have accused the company of recruiting students by claiming that attendance is selective, when the company actually markets its programs to tens of thousands of youth. In 2009, the company attracted 15,000 youth to events related to President Barack Obama's inauguration, but was unable to fulfill the promises it made in its promotional materials. It settled a lawsuit, promising to pay out up to $17 million in vouchers to event attendees.
- 1 History
- 2 Programs worldwide
- 3 Recognition
- 4 College credits
- 5 Criticism
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Founding and purpose
The company was founded as Envision EMI in 1985 by Barbara Harris and Richard Rossi. As of 2010[update], neither were affiliated with the company. Envision Experience plans, organizes, and runs seminars, programs, and conferences around the world. As of 2006, the predecessor company Envision EMI had over 200 staff members and annual revenues of over US$75 million, with over 47,000 students from fourth grade through college attended Envision programs around the world.
According to the 2008 IRS filing for one of its subsidiary programs, the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, "all full-time staff working on the account of CYLC are employees of Envision EMI LLC." Envision EMI formerly operated some of its programs on behalf of non-profit entities that it had an exclusive marketing relationship with, including the Congressional Youth Leadership Council and the National Youth Leadership Forum, which Envision purchased in November 2007. Envision acquired the assets of the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, including its name and the rights to run all of the programs.
The company hosted more than 56,000 students in 273 conferences during 2009 in the United States, China, and Australia focusing on career education and qualities of leadership. The week-long programs cost from $1,440 to more than $3,060. Students are encouraged to raise money to help fund the trip.
The programs are marketed as conferences that help scholars develop their leadership and educational skills. The company strives through its marketing efforts to reach students it describes as high-achievers. While the company is privately held and a for-profit enterprise, all of its wholly owned, subsidiary programs' web sites utilize the .org domain suffix, which was originally intended for generally non-commercial non-profit organizations.
In October 2011, substantially all the assets of Envision EMI, LLC were acquired by Leadership Platform Acquisition Corporation (LPAC), an affiliate of Gryphon Investors, which describes itself as "a highly respected San Francisco based private equity firm with a strong commitment to the field of education."
In 2012, the company hired John B. Richards, the former head of Starbucks' North American operations with a marketing background in the hospitality industry, as its new CEO. In August, 2013, the company rebranded itself as Envision Experience and launched a new web site.
In 2009, Envision EMI hosted more than 56,000 students in 273 conferences, more students than attended the programs of the company’s three closest competitors combined, and it planned to offer 310 conferences in 2010. Most of the programs are attended by 150 to 400 students. As of 2015[update], the company hosts a wide variety of programs for youth of all ages, from elementary school to college. These programs focus on areas like medicine and health, business, law, digital media, national security, and others.
During the company's various programs students are given the opportunity to learn and exchange ideas with business leaders, politicians, lobbyists, journalists, diplomats and academics. For example, the company partnered with Discovery Education in a program through which high school students interviewed and reported on candidates for the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Previous keynote speakers at one of their conferences included:
- Ishmael Beah, former Sierra Leonean child soldier and the author of the published memoir A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.
- Alec Ross, Senior Adviser on Innovation in the Office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
- Claudio Grossman, Dean and Co-Director of the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian law at Washington College of Law
- Renjie Butalid
In 1999, 2003, and in November 2007, Envision EMI was cited in "Great Places to Work: Where to Launch a Career" by The Washingtonian Magazine.
The faculty at George Mason University has approved several Envision programs for elective college credit in "Special Topics in Leadership.". These programs are the NYLF Forum on National Security, the National Young Leaders Conference, the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine, the National Youth Leadership Forum on Law and CSI, and the Global Young Leaders Conference. Participating students have the opportunity to earn one or two college credits, depending upon the length of the program, and credits are generally transferable to other 4-year colleges or universities. Students are evaluated for “active participation in simulations, contributions to discussions and demonstration of leadership and critical thinking skills in group and individual settings.”
George Mason University notes that “it is unlikely that this type of credit will have a significant bearing on the college admissions process. When given the opportunity, we encourage students to think about how they can present these experiences in the application process as an example of their leadership potential.” Academic programs offering college credit help save on undergraduate tuition, in addition to allowing students to explore specialized career paths and interests while offering “invaluable opportunities to take advanced courses and make use of resources not available in most high schools”.
The company markets its programs to what it describes as "high achievers" and "an elite group of outstanding young people" which it identifies via recommendations and mass mailings. In 2009, more than 287,000 teachers nominated students to participate in an Envision EMI program. Students are nominated to attend the National Youth Leadership Forum by "teachers and alumni of previous conferences, and it culls names from mailing lists, for which the Congressional Youth Leadership Council paid $263,000 in 2006."
In 2008, some program materials stated that a minimum 3.5 grade point average (GPA) was required. Educators who nominate students are now told to use their own discretion. Teachers who nominate students to attend the company’s programs say they consider a student’s grades, behavior and participation in class, interactions with other students, and ability to learn. The nomination form does not ask for GPA. levels or educational achievement, simply asking only for the student’s name, address, school year and sex.
Representation of exclusiveness; Portraying high selectivity
Many high school students believe that attending one of Envisions' conferences is an honor and that their participation will positively affect their chances for college admission. CollegeConfidential.com, written by professional college admission counselors, reports that "Too many students are invited to take part to make this a truly selective organization, and so many college candidates do take part—especially those from the more well-heeled families—that college-admission officials usually just yawn when they spot an Envision program on an application."
Among college students, Susan Garrity Ardizzoni, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Tufts University, reported that some students who receive invitations are not what she would consider "leadership material." Patrick O’Connor, the director of college counseling at the Roeper School for gifted students in Birmingham, Michigan, reported that he is "happy to nominate whoever wants to go.”
2009 inaugural conference criticism and legal action
In January 2009, Envision EMI was criticized for its handling of their Presidential Youth Inaugural Conferences that offered 15,000 youths the opportunity to attend exclusive events in Washington, D.C. Participants received a letter congratulating them on being "accepted to be among the thousands of students" to "witness first-hand the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States.
Some students who had attended prior Envision events were surprised by the number of participants. One alumni of prior Envision conferences said she did not expect to be among 5,000 university students and 10,000 middle school and high school students at the conference. Prior conferences she had attended had around 200 to 400 students. Envision did not tell participants the actual number of attendees until they arrived. A former employee of Envision, Angie Peltzer, returned as a faculty adviser during the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conferences and said she believed the company was unprepared to handle the number of students. "It's hard to do 15,000 people when you've only done 500 before," Peltzer said. Another student attendee said the invitation gave her the impression "that there would be less people and it would be more intimate." She was surprised by the numbers who attended.
The program web site stated that the conference included "exclusive and private inaugural events and activities... as well as public ceremonial events, such as the official swearing-in ceremony and the inaugural parade."
Parents began to file complaints with the company. As a result, the company pledged an independent review headed by Benjamin R. Civiletti, the Carter administration attorney general, and set aside US$1 million for restitution. The company acknowledged there were issues: “While the vast majority of scholars who attended our presidential inaugural programs had a positive experience, we acknowledge that some of them have stated that they did not and this is unacceptable to us.... We are urgently working to address each and every concern and to respond to the families’ inquiries as quickly as possible."
On May 13, 2009, the law firms Hausfeld LLP and DiMuroGinsberg PC filed a class action lawsuit, Radosti v. Envision EMI, LLC. The plaintiffs filed suit against Envision and CYLC citing breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, and violations of state consumer protection laws. According to the lawsuit, delegates were told they would attend a "Black Tie Gala", when the actual dress code was "professional business attire (suits)". The suit alleges, that "instead of the promised official inaugural ball, the students were taken to a "glorified prom"." Richard Rossi, a co-founder of Envision, told The New York Times in April 2009 that the logistical challenges during the inauguration were overwhelming. "We were operating in almost a war zone, literally a presidential state of emergency", Mr. Rossi said. “There were a lot of things going on that were inconveniencing even V.I.P.’s.”
On June 10, 2010, the law firm announced a settlement that provided up to US$17 million in tuition vouchers to members of the class action suit. The vouchers provide anyone who attended any of the inaugural programs with two, fully transferable vouchers worth US$625 (totaling US$1,250). The voucher can be redeemed until 2018 in payment as tuition for any future Envision program. Class members may only transfer the vouchers to individuals who meet Envision's academic qualifications, including a demonstrated grade point average of 3.5 or higher.
The judge who approved the settlement noted that the cy pres fund established by the settlement agreement—if properly administered—will ensure that Envision substantially disgorges the profits from its alleged misconduct. The vouchers are worth approximately 50% of the tuition cost for the Presidential Inaugural conference. To provide a marketplace for the transferable vouchers, Envision agreed to maintain a web page describing how the vouchers can be transferred and redeemed. If Envision fails to distribute vouchers totaling at least US$8,000,000, it agreed to establish a Class Settlement Scholarship Fund that may be used to provide partial or total scholarships to "academically qualified applicants." The Fund may also distribute an additional 5% of scholarships to other youth organizations to give to their members so they may attend Envision programs. As of March 2015[update], the voucher web site page was no longer available.
In an amicus curiae brief filed with the United States Supreme Court, Theodore H. Frank of the public-interest law firm Center for Class Action Fairness stated that there is a likelihood that "class members will not be able to use their coupons to attend the conference of their choice, given that only 10% of seats at any given conference will be allowed to redeem coupons." He noted that the court approved the settlement over the objection of 22 state attorneys general. He also wrote that class members are forced to help Envision EMI stay in business and are compelled to deal with the same firm that failed to deliver the initial conference for which they paid more than $2,300 to attend.
Better Business Bureau rating
Of the more than 150,000 students who participated in Envision EMI programs between 2006 and 2009, 108 have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau of Metro Washington D.C. and Eastern Pennsylvania. Fifty of those complaints were filed following the conclusion of the 2009 Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference. In February 2009, the Better Business Bureau of Metro Washington D.C. and Eastern Pennsylvania revoked the company's accreditation because of "its failure to maintain the principles and standards required for accreditation" and the "number of complaints filed against business." The Better Business Bureau (BBB) cited "problems encountered by attendees at its 2009 Presidential Inaugural Conference." The company has since resolved 92% of those complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau. Of the seven remaining unresolved complaints, the Bureau shows that the "company made every reasonable effort to resolve" five of them. In mid-2010, the Bureau gave the company an “A+” rating and restored the company's former accreditation.
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- Press Releases: Students from Global Young Leaders Conference attend State Department Briefing for July 27th, 2010 – Government News – www.implu.com
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- "Envision EMI Review - LECTURE & SEMINAR BUREAUS in Vienna, VA - BBB Business Review". June 8, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-11.