NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Public Schools Sell Empty Classroom Seats Abroad

March 13, 2012

Across the United States, public high schools in struggling small towns are putting their empty classroom seats up for sale, says Reuters.

  • In Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, and Lake Placid, New York, in Lavaca, Arkansas, and Millinocket, Maine, administrators are aggressively recruiting international students.
  • They're wooing well-off families in China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Russia and dozens of other countries, seeking teenagers who speak decent English, have a sense of adventure -- and are willing to pay as much as $30,000 for a year in an American public school.
  • The end goal for foreign students: Admission to a U.S. college.

American colleges have long seen international students as a rich source of revenue.  But few public school principals ever dreamed of charging tuition -- until states began making deep cuts to education budgets and plunging property values eroded local funding for schools.

Success in the international market is far from assured.

  • Just 1,135 foreign students are currently paying tuition to attend a public high school.
  • Still, that's a huge jump from the 309 enrolled five years ago, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
  • More than 1,000 public high schools have completed the federal certification process, including a site visit, that allows them to bring in tuition-paying foreigners.
  • In small schools with just 10 or 15 students per class, the marginal cost of adding a few more bodies is slim, notes Randy Richards, the superintendent in Lake Placid, New York.

Some fret that small, rural public schools -- many with only mediocre academic records -- have no business charging such hefty tuition.  And some overseas recruiters acknowledge that foreign families know little about public high schools.

Nonetheless, student visas are fairly easy to get; the United States does not impose any caps or quotas.  And recruiters say public schools appeal to foreign families because they're often far cheaper than private boarding schools.

Source: Stephanie Simon, "Public Schools Sell Empty Classroom Seats Abroad," Reuters, March 8, 2012.


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