by W. Dennis Facciolo, Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management, Tampa Preparatory School (FL)
The mad rush this decade by many independent schools to embrace the international student invasion has its roots in the post-World War II years. America’s role as the savior of the free world saw an influx of international students from allies and global partners, as well as the growth of international programs for Americans such as the Peace Corps.
The success of recovering economies after WWII in Europe and Asia and the emergence of global alliances resulted in an influx of exchange students from countries such as Turkey, Thailand, and Iran, among others, and more recently from Brazil, China, India, and Vietnam. As a result, international exchange agencies saw an influx of thousands of exchange students from abroad as well as youth from the United States who traveled the world to broaden their educational and cultural horizons.
From 1950 through 2015, the number of international students living, studying, and exploring in the United States rose from 2.5 million to 20.3 million. In 2014-2015, the international student population increased 10% over the prior year, the highest rate of growth since 1978-79! *
While most statistical data reference undergraduate and graduate students, the implications have been game changing - as well as challenging - for the private boarding and day schools that international families see as conduits to American universities and colleges.
For many domestic independent schools, the influx of international applicants was seen as a boon financially, especially during the recent recession. I must admit our board and administrative team embraced the idea and jumped at the opportunity to grow our enrollment by attracting students from abroad. This became even more alluring when the CEO of an international exchange program guaranteed 15-20 exchange students!
As a day school, we knew that we had a lot to do to prepare for this endeavor, and we crafted four goals around the idea that to attract international students and families, we needed to demonstrate that our school’s culture valued the idea of being a cosmopolitan educational institution and promoted the idea that an international community would provide our students with a more well-balanced view of the world. This aspect was also deeply tied to our mission statement – Think, Create, Be Yourself, Aspire to Excellence and Go Beyond!
As we began planning our initiative, we soon realized that much of what we wanted to do had already been set in motion – we already had a global studies concentration, a cohort of international faculty, and a commitment to bilingualism; we also have a highly attractive geographic location possessing a large number of international expats living and working in the Tampa Bay tri-city area.
We decided to focus on four aspects:
- The experience and outcomes for domestic and international students
- Mosaic and quantity of student population
- Academic quality and linguistic fluency
- Number of international students and host families
The benefits of an exchange program were seen as a way to broaden our own students’ horizons as well as fostering a more balanced view of the world. In addition, we hoped that this interchange of students would nurture a respect for the dignity and worth of others regardless of their racial, national, economic, or social status.
The biggest lesson we learned was to view revenue from our international students as separate from the projected budget. We also learned that given our capacity enrollment of 660, we could accommodate between 5 and10 students. We also felt that we would yield a more diverse mix of international students by catering to youth who were seeking a semester or year abroad, with more of a focus on a cultural exchange.
Our rigorous academic program and a conscious decision not to offer an ESL program required that we set a pretty high TOEFL score (90-120) requirement for admission that limited candidates but attracted quality applicants as well as a mosaic of students from abroad. The high TOEFL scores were clearly intended to impress upon the international exchange programs and applicants that English fluency was essential in order to be considered as a candidate for admission to our school.
We worked closely with two well-established exchange programs who understood that our day school model facilitated the success of our international program. Early identification of interested international students by regional exchange directors was essential. Also key to planning for programmatic needs and athletic eligibility for our exchange students was pre-identifying host families from our global studies concentration. We also realized that unless our exchange students’ academic, athletic, and artistic qualities mirrored those of our domestic students, we would have difficulty finding host families among our school community.
We decided to focus on attracting students who were looking for a semester or year-long cultural exchange. Because we found it difficult to find host families for multiple-year academic exchange students who wanted to matriculate to American universities and colleges, we capped our acceptance of multi-year students at two, unless they were residing with local relatives. Those students, such as our Chinese and Vietnamese candidates who apply to 10th or 11th grade for the long haul, can graduate and matriculate to American universities and colleges. The other issue we addressed was to require any student who wished to be eligible to be our valedictorian or salutatorian to enter the school in the 10th grade.
Finally, the marketing of our international student mosaic on our website attracted numerous international families from major corporations and businesses relocating to the Tampa Bay area. As a day school, the strategic plan put into place during the recession was invaluable. Through trial and error, it allowed us to create an experience for our community. Young men and women from around the globe see Tampa Preparatory School as a first class opportunity for international exchange students - we are currently hosting students from Austria, Brazil, China, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Tanzania and Vietnam.
With a rich academic tradition, a commitment to arts and athletics, and a school culture of acceptance and open-mindedness, Tampa Preparatory School believes we offer international students and families an excellent independent day school experience in Tampa Bay.
*Data from Open Doors: