Thousands of International Students Are Enrolling in U.S. High Schools

Che Sun of China listens during math class at Newcomb Central School in Newcomb, N.Y., in Februrary. International students are flocking to U.S. high schools. (Photo: Andy Duback for USA TODAY)
Che Sun of China listens during math class at Newcomb Central School in Newcomb, N.Y., in Februrary. International students are flocking to U.S. high schools.
(Photo: Andy Duback for USA TODAY)

Tens of thousands of students from foreign countries are enrolling in U.S. high schools, in most cases as a first step toward applying to U.S. colleges and universities, a study out Tuesday says. Most are from China.

Last year, more than 73,000 international students enrolled in U.S. high schools, federal data show. About two thirds, nearly 49,000, received visas enabling them to pursue a U.S. high school diploma. That’s more than triple the number since 2004, when just under 16,000 foreign students held such visas, says the study by the Institute of International Education, a non-profit organization.

About a third, 25,387, received visas for shorter-term high school exchange programs. That’s up 15% over the same period, the report says.

Cultural exchange programs, which have traditionally run for an academic year or less and emphasize mutual understanding, remain popular, particularly among European students.

The more recent influx of international students, driven primarily by Asians, is motivated for academic reasons.

“Their ultimate goal is U.S. higher education,” says Christine Farrugia, a researcher with the institute’s Center for Academic Mobility Research. “They’re looking at the college placement records of these schools, their SAT scores. They’re focused on those sorts of indicators and things that would prepare them well” when they apply to colleges.

The trend is taking place primarily at private high schools, which enroll about 95% of all foreign students studying in the USA. Public schools in 42 states enrolled nearly 2,200 international students last fall.

The influx of international students has created controversy in some places. In February, a private company withdrew a proposal to place 30 Chinese students in Valparaiso High School in Indiana after some local residents objected. Christopher Pupillo, one of the parents who opposed the plan, cited a “continued lack of transparency and unwillingness to engage honestly and openly with the community,” according to the Post-Tribune, a publication of the Chicago Sun-Times.

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Source: USA Today | Mary Beth Marklein

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