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International students boost U.S. enrollment

International students and their U.S. classmates from Newcomb Central School District in New York go for a hike in the nearby Adirondack Mountains.
International students and their U.S. classmates from Newcomb Central School District in New York go for a hike in the nearby Adirondack Mountains.

Districts hurting financially are recruiting tuition-paying foreign students to increase enrollment and diversity.

The number of international high school students coming to the United States with an F-1 education visa increased to nearly 65,500 in 2012, up from 6,500 in 2007, according to federal data.

Of those, only 2,788 attended public schools, while the rest went to private institutions. More and more international students are coming to U.S. public schools to master their English skills and increase their chances of admission to an American university, says Chris Page, executive director of the Council on Standards for International Education Travel, a nonprofit that offers leadership and support for schools participating in international exchange.

Schools have to apply to become certified to accept international students. The process involves a fee and a site visit by the Department of Homeland Security. Federal law stipulates that foreign students can only attend public schools for one year, and requires them to pay tuition to the schools they attend. Tuition for public schools is determined by the per-student funding level set by each state or local government.

“The tuition can certainly help schools that are in need,” Page says. “Along with that comes an ethical responsibility for schools to provide programming that’s safe and of high quality.” Recruiting foreign students seems to be most common in rural districts, though there are not yet statistics available, he adds.

Newcomb Central School District, located in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, began accepting international students in 2007. Enrollment in the rural district composed of one K12 school with room for 400 had dropped to just 55 students that year, and diversity was virtually nonexistent, Superintendent Clark “Skip” Hults says.

Enrollment is now up to 109 students, and Newcomb has hosted 80 international students from 28 different countries, including China, France, Turkey and Vietnam. Students pay $5,000 in tuition and $5,500 for room and board to a host family for the year. “Without this program, our students would never have had the exposure to so many cultures, which prepares them for the more diverse experience of college,” Hults says.

Newcomb administrators interview foreign students over Skype, and look for those with strong academic records and good English skills who want to get involved in extracurriculars. The district turns away students each year because there are not enough host families in the small town of Newcomb, population 425.

In total, the international students have brought in about $100,000 to the district’s general fund and an additional $100,000 to the host families, Hults says. He is now working with 18 other districts statewide to create similar programs.