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WASHINGTON -- At American University, in Washington, D.C., admissions staff don’t have to travel far to reach a sizable portion of international applicants. American’s director of international admissions, Evelyn Levinson, said nearly a quarter of this year’s freshman undergraduate international applicants -- 23 percent -- attended high school in the U.S.

A session Friday at the annual NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference focused on opportunities to recruit international students close to home, including international students who attend U.S. high schools and those who come to college campuses for short-term programs.

An analysis by the Institute of International Education found that there were 81,981 international students studying at U.S. high schools in 2016, the vast majority of whom (72 percent) were degree-seeking students on F visas, while the remainder (28 percent) were exchange students on J visas. China was by far the leading country of origin for students seeking full degrees in U.S. high schools, followed by South Korea, Vietnam, Mexico and Japan.

More recent data published by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program -- just for those high school students on F-1 visas, excluding those who come on a J-1 exchange visa -- shows declines since 2016, but a sizable number nonetheless: about 52,647 international students attended U.S. high schools on F-1 visas as of this past March, compared to 62,517 in March 2016.

Michael Shaver, the director of international market growth for the Association of Boarding Schools, said the association’s estimate is that about 20 percent of international students at U.S. high schools are at boarding schools. Shaver said that boarding schools had a 4 percent increase in international applications from March 2018 to March 2019.

“We’re starting to see softening of numbers from China, South Korea and Mexico, but to counter that we’re seeing growth from other places such as Spain and Italy and Albania, the Czech Republic,” he said.

“Pathway to higher ed is the No. 1 reason that they come to study in the U.S. and Canada; they’re already thinking about coming to your colleges and universities before they even talk to you,” Shaver said.

He added that most international students at boarding schools have the financial means to pay for college -- a not-insignificant fact for college admissions officers looking for international students who can pay full costs. “Most of our international students can pay at least 60 percent of total costs” for boarding schools, which average $50,000 to $60,000 per year, he said.

Levinson, of American University, said that of the nearly quarter of this year’s freshman international applicants who attended U.S. high schools, the majority -- 58 percent -- were Chinese nationals, while the remaining 42 percent represented 77 other citizenships.

In her presentation, Levinson focused on the importance of coordinating with the domestic admissions team, which at American makes final admissions decisions on international applicants who attend U.S. high schools. She recommended “creating as subset of domestic specialists who are really interested in international” and developing a list of American high schools that send large numbers of international applicants and targeting visits and outreach accordingly. She suggested including a section with specific application instructions for international students in the domestic admission team’s handouts.

Levinson also noted the importance of being clear on whether there are different admission and financial aid policies for international versus domestic students. If an international student walks up to a counselor at a college fair in the U.S. and asks about financial aid opportunities, for example, the answer may be very different than for a domestic student.

Levinson also provided a sense of some of the additional factors that American is looking at in evaluating international applicants who attended American high schools.

One factor she said, is the amount of time they spent at a U.S. high school and the ease of that transition. Were they there just for 11th and 12th grade, or did they come to a U.S. high school earlier?

Other factors, she said, include: “How much rigor was there in their previous educational system and the one they’re in right now?” Levinson said AU looks beyond the standardized English proficiency test scores to look at the grades students earned in English subjects and the level of English in email and phone communications. Another factor is leadership and community service and involvement in activities at the U.S. high school: “Did they take advantage of the U.S. experience to get involved?” Levinson asked. “These are things in the holistic review process that we’re looking at.”

Following the presentations on recruiting at U.S. high schools, Patricia Juza, the director of the International English Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, presented on creating an international recruitment pipeline through short-term programs. Juza discussed a variety of types of short-term programs colleges can develop or host, including:

  • Academic and sports camps.
  • State Department-funded EducationUSA Academy, which is a precollege enrichment program for international high school students.
  • English language programs.
  • Short-term courses offered in summer and winter sessions.
  • Study abroad programs and exchanges with university partners.
  • Foreign government sponsored short-term study programs like the Mexican government’s Proyecta 100,000 program, which funds short-term intensive English studies.
  • Programs for international au pairs working in the U.S. on exchange visas.
  • Online courses and programs with low-residency components.
  • Customized programs such as programs for executives, government delegations and study tourism.
  • Foundation programs and academic boot camps run in collaboration with academic departments.

Juza discussed a number of strategies for converting short-term students or visitors to long-term students, including introducing students to “rock-star faculty”; giving short-term students the opportunity to engage with degree-seeking students and university and community facilities; offering discounts or scholarships to returning students; providing “concierge”-type services; and developing an alumni network of short-term students.

Juza cautioned that some of these types of short-term programs will make little revenue in and of themselves. For example, she said programs for au pairs aren’t likely to be big moneymakers: au pairs in the U.S. on J-1 exchange visas are required as part of the terms of their visas to complete six credit hours at an accredited U.S. college, but they only have a $500 budget for it. Similarly, in seeking to host some of the short-term programs funded by foreign governments, Juza noted that institutions have to put forward a competitive price quote.

“A lot of institutions will set up short-term or custom programs because they generate revenue,” Juza said. “They are a good revenue source, and depending on the type of program you may be able to charge more for it, but something to keep in mind is that the programs are very labor intensive. They involve a lot of indirect costs, so the operating margins may be a bit narrow. However, they are one of the most effective ways for recruiting longer-term students.”

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