U.S. High Schools Picking Up More International Flavor

By Tawnell D. Hobbs Features Dow Jones Newswires

International students have been changing the economics and culture of U.S. college campuses, and now they are making inroads at American high schools.

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The number of international students enrolled at U.S. high schools more than doubled from 2004 to 2016, to reach 81,981 students, according to a recent federally funded study by the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit focused on education across borders.

Most of the students ultimately seek to enroll in U.S. universities, with their high-school diplomas acting as a bridge to college, the study found.

"We have a very homogeneous community, and our kids were unprepared to go out into this globalized world of college," said Clark "Skip" Hults, superintendent of Newcomb Central School District, a rural public-school system in upstate New York. "We felt that having the world join us in our classroom would also make for better studies."

Mr. Hults said his 85-student district has 11 international students this year, from Russia, Spain and Vietnam.

About 4% of the international students attended U.S. public high schools on F-1 visas in 2016, according to the Institute of International Education. Unlike for private schools, those visas extend a maximum of 12 months for public schools, and federal law requires that international students attending U.S. public high schools under such visas pay full tuition, normally ranging between $3,000 and $10,000, according to the State Department. Private schools set their own rates.

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"There's a financial contribution when they're paying into public schools," said Rajika Bhandari, head of research, policy and practice at the institute. "For most of these students, the goal is to graduate with a high-school diploma. They're really looking at seeing themselves as being more competitive to get into a U.S. university."

In turn, international students increasingly fill enrollment slots at U.S. colleges, which has made getting into some schools harder for American kids and boosted schools' revenue, because international students typically don't get a discount on tuition.

Besides the more widely used, longer-term F-1 visas, other students use the J-1 visa, mainly for shorter-term cultural-exchange programs.

Students from China make up about 42% of international students studying in U.S. high schools, the study says. Top-sending countries of diploma-seeking students include China, South Korea, Vietnam, Mexico, Japan and Canada.

Visa applications are being accepted for students in six Muslim-majority countries affected by the Trump administration's partially implemented travel ban, according to the State Department. The ban targets Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In 2016, 87 visas were provided to high-school students from those countries.

All 50 states and Washington, D.C., have international students in high schools. The number of U.S. high schools enrolling international students also is up, from 2,300 in 2013 to 2,800 in 2016, according to the study.

The trend comes even as some American families have found the U.S. education system lacking, and they point to academic progress in Asian countries. China has outperformed the U.S. in international exams in science and math.

In Michigan, Oxford Community Schools has educated hundreds of international students over the years, mostly from China, officials there said. Chunchun Tang, Oxford's director of international programs, said the American and international students learn each other's culture, preparing them for the modern workplace.

Ms. Tang said the international students do provide an alternative revenue stream, which she said can vary, but that the students' education is the priority. The Oxford district also employs a team dedicated to international students, a move rarely seen in public-school districts, especially small ones like Oxford, which has about 6,000 students.

"That just speaks to our school district's dedication," Ms. Tang said.

Write to Tawnell D. Hobbs at Tawnell.Hobbs@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 09, 2017 09:14 ET (13:14 GMT)