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International Student Enrollment: Benefits and Risks

Posted by Grace Lee on Jan 7, 2013 10:03:00 AM

The U.S. has the largest population in the world of foreign students--well over 1 million! In 2012 we launched the School Growth International Student Enrollment (ISE) program to help U.S. private secondary schools and small colleges expand the size and diversity of their student body with a disciplined approach that maximizes the benefits for the whole school community and reduces the daunting risks. Having assisted in the (re-)design of schools in various countries and with a new office in Shanghai, we are fully committed toSchool Growth Shanghai Office working with select schools to grow through the constructive enrollment of international students. 

Having been involved in recruiting foreign students for nearly twenty years, we've seen some schools serve these families very well and others that created miserable conditions that damaged the people and the institution. The leadership of the school must consider the purpose, objectives, and strategies for attracting international students:

  • Why do you want to enroll students who come from a different land, culture, language, and ethnicity? Mission? Money? Diversity? 
  • How far are you willing to go to help these students acclimate and succeed?
  • What risks are you willing to take? What risks are you unwilling to take?
  • Have you properly mitigated the risks for students, host families, parents, etc.?
  • Is your school board and community prepared for and engaged with your foreign student strategy?
  • How will you communicate with foreign parents to reinforce their selection of your school and their ongoing support?
  • Will you maintain a healthy level of diversity by capping the enrollment from a single region?

Foreign Student "Agents" abound these days with connections to families who want to send their student to the U.S. for a better education. More experienced schools receive weekly and even daily phone calls from foreign agents looking for a place to enroll students, creating stress for the enrollment office because of language barriers and incompatible priorities. Schools rightly want to protect their reputation and brand, but it's nearly impossible to control what these foreign agents communicate and charge to the families overseas. This is why we offer the ISE program, providing the benefits of a well-planned enrollment expansion initiative that helps the school stay focused on its core competencies and avoid some huge risks.

Proper legal protection for all stakeholders is critical. Your school should have agreements with the foreign family and host family, that establishes accurate expectations for service and indemnifications for liability. To what outcomes has the school committed? What happens when the host family goes on vacation? Who is responsible in the event of a traumatic event that harms the student? Who is responsible if the student inflicts harm? What is the total financial commitment for the foreign family and does this include gifts?

The School Growth team has traveled overseas extensively, and we can tell you that the differences in food has a significant influence on the welfare of foreign students. Don't underestimate the importance of providing access to food that is popular with them. After only a few days during our first visit to Korea and China, we were craving a pizza or hamburger that tasted like home. Not having the chance to eat our own food had an affect on our demeanor. We adjusted, of course, but the impact was real.

Unless your school has boarding facilities, host families are critical to building your foreign student program. This is one of the biggest risk areas for schools because the leadership underestimates and underperforms on the need to recruit, screen, train, survey, inform, and evaluate host families. Negligence in this area will create unwanted stress on the family, the student, and the school.

Visa management is a high priority expectation of your school from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP). Utilizing the SEVIS web site, the assigned representative from your school must meticulously update the status of each student, especially during holiday travel. We know of one situation where a foreign student went on a school-sponsored mission trip to Central America, but was not allowed re-entry into the U.S. because the school had not properly updated the visa status. This debacle took months to resolve and caused long-term disruption for the school.

Engagement of foreign parents is important for the students, your teachers, and yourChristmas International school. Translating school messages into the language of the parents is a good first step, followed by the creation of a narrative assessment that provides feedback regarding the whole student--not just a grade report from the classrooms.  

Enrolling international students can be a productive strategy for growing enrollment, diversity, and even curriculum offerings. A disciplined approach will serve you well, learning from the experiences of schools that have been running such a program for decades and taking care of the myriad of details. We have over forty years of combined private school leadership experience and understand how to craft a program that is consistent with your mission and admission policies.  In other words, we speak the language of school leaders.

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