Going for a Global High

Report focuses on international students attending U.S. secondary schools

Last year, the Institute of International Education (IIE) published a report entitled Charting New Pathways to Higher Education: International Secondary Students in the United States which offers considerable insight into the rapid growth in the number of overseas students coming to the U.S. to attend high school.

Authored by Christine A. Farrugia and funded by the Department of State, the report found that the number of international students enrolled directly in U.S. secondary programs more than tripled from fall 2004 to fall 2013, while the number of exchange students grew only about 15% during the same period. “While secondary school students from around the world have been coming to the U.S. on high school exchange programs for many years, IIE’s new analysis shows that the number of students who enroll directly in U.S. schools to earn a U.S. high school diploma now significantly outnumbers those who are here on exchanges,” said IIE’s deputy vice president for research and evaluation, Rajika Bhandari. “This is a remarkable finding, and one which has implications for U.S. higher education.”

The report looks closely at where the students come from and where they study — with breakdowns by U.S. state and type of school. The following excerpts from the report highlight its findings:

  • Over the past several years, numbers of inbound international students coming to the U.S. to earn high school diplomas have grown at a much higher rate, and the students now outnumber those traveling to the U.S. to participate in exchange programs. In October 2013, there were 73,019 international students pursuing a secondary-level education in the U.S., with 48,632 (67%) enrolled for full diplomas. Most of the diploma-seeking students are from Asia (57%), while the majority (66%) of the roughly 24,000 high school students who come to the U.S. on cultural exchange programs are from Europe.
  • International-secondary-student mobility largely follows the mobility patterns of international postsecondary students in the U.S., with students from Asia making up the majority. Asian students represent the largest proportion of international students in the U.S. at both the secondary and postsecondary levels, suggesting that there are similar motivators for international mobility at both levels. Students from East Asia are highly motivated to invest resources in education abroad in order to receive what they believe will be a high-quality Western education that will ultimately prepare them for successful careers. In the face of competitive admissions processes to U.S. higher-education institutions, Asian students may perceive that studying abroad at the secondary level can provide them with the academic, language, and cultural skills to make them stand out to admissions officers at the most elite universities in the U.S. and other Western countries.
  • But the mobility patterns of some international secondary students are notably different from those of their counterparts at the postsecondary level. India and Saudi Arabia send large numbers of postsecondary students to the U.S., but negligible numbers of students to the U.S. and other host countries at the secondary level. In the case of India, language could be a major factor, as the country’s undergraduate education system offers Indian students a high-quality education in English in their home country, providing sufficient academic preparation to successfully compete for admission to graduate programs abroad.
  • The strong presence of Saudi students in U.S. higher education is a result of the Saudi government scholarship program that generously supports Saudi student study in the U.S. and other countries at the postsecondary level, including English-training programs and undergraduate- and graduate-degree programs. However, these scholarships are reserved for postsecondary students, and there appear to be few secondary-level Saudi students in the U.S.
  • Students from Asia, particularly those from China and South Korea, constitute the majority of the nearly 49,000 secondary students who are seeking U.S. high school diplomas, with Chinese students alone accounting for 46% of these students.
    Most (66%) of the roughly 24,000 exchange students come from Europe and an additional 9% from South America, suggesting that students from these regions are primarily motivated to come to the U.S. for cultural exchange.
  • U.S. high schools typically enroll diploma-seeking international students or exchange students, not both, with diploma-seeking students (on F-1 visas) enrolling in schools usually on the East and West Coasts, while the Midwest is the most popular host region for exchange students.
  • The vast majority (95%) of international secondary students enroll in U.S. private schools, including independent schools and religiously affiliated schools. Current U.S. visa policies restrict F-1 students to no more than one year of study in public schools, which means that international students are not able to enroll in public high schools for multiple years to earn high school diplomas. Given these visa restrictions, international programs at public schools function more like exchange programs than those at private schools.
  • The increasing interest among international students in pursuing U.S. secondary education as a pathway to higher education has implications for education stakeholders in the U.S. Limits on the number of international students admitted to U.S. institutions, sometimes driven by legislative caps placed on out-of-state enrollment in public institutions, in combination with growing numbers of applicants from abroad, can make the application process competitive for international applicants. Accordingly, prospective international students may perceive that they can gain an admissions advantage in applying to U.S. higher-education institutions by engaging in an international educational experience during their secondary-school years.
  • Prospective international students are also more likely to be located in the U.S. at the time of recruitment into higher education, making it possible to recruit some international students locally, particularly from private schools. Given their prior exposure to U.S. classrooms and successful adjustment to U.S. life, these students may have academic, language, and cultural skills that can not only contribute to their success on campus but also serve as a potential resource to help ease the adjustment of their peer international students who might be entering the U.S. for the first time for their postsecondary studies.
  • For U.S. high schools, increasing international-student enrollment may serve to enhance schools’ globalization efforts and provide a diversity of student viewpoints and experiences to develop the global perspectives of American students, some of whom may not have global exposure otherwise.
  • However, the growth in diploma-seeking international students is largely driven by demand from Asia. The demographics of this student profile suggest that they may provide overall diversity for a school, but fail to represent a full range of global students. The risk of enrolling too many students from the same region is that they may tend to associate more closely with their compatriots, which would detract from the goal of cross-cultural learning. Schools that enroll international students are encouraged to pay close attention to the diversity of their international-student bodies by strategically recruiting in a range of countries across several regions. Because exchange programs are a more popular form of U.S. study among European and South American secondary students, schools can expand the diversity of their international student population beyond Asia by simultaneously enrolling exchange students in addition to those seeking diplomas.
  • While this report provides a crucial contribution toward understanding the relationship between international mobility at the secondary and postsecondary levels, further research could provide greater insight into the pipeline of globally mobile students in postsecondary education. Research on subsequent postsecondary enrollment by international secondary students would provide valuable information on the types of postsecondary institutions that international secondary students attend, as well the countries where they eventually pursue a postsecondary education.

Click here for the full report

The following U.S. secondary schools welcome international students:

Forest Ridge
Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart educates young women to think critically, embrace challenges, model resilience, confront injustice, seek equality, and lead globally in the pioneering spirit of their foundress. Forest Ridge’s pedagogy is grounded in the Sacred Heart Goals: a personal and active faith in God; a deep respect for intellectual values; a social awareness which impels to action; the building of community as a Christian value; and personal growth in an atmosphere of wise freedom. Parents choose Forest Ridge for its rigorous academics, experiential learning, small class sizes, individual attention, and diverse community.

Woodstock Academy
Just 22 schools in the U.S. hold the same distinction as Woodstock Academy, a private institution with a public mission. Woodstock Academy serves students from six sending towns, many throughout northeastern Connecticut and southern Massachusetts, and attracts international students from around the globe. Most international students stay with host families, which facilitates the students’ transitions to a new place and gives families peace of mind. Woodstock Academy provides rigorous academic opportunities, broad-based, competitive athletic programs, a wide array of extracurricular activities, and numerous chances for international travel.

Ashley Hall
Ashley Hall is committed to the continued development of a diverse student body that reflects the global community. It attracts students from around the world who are looking for a personal boarding experience. Students who study at Ashley Hall go on to acceptance at many of the U.S.’s premiere universities and colleges. International students may begin their study at Ashley Hall in ninth grade and are offered a multidisciplinary curriculum. ESL classes are available; however, international students are fully integrated into the school community and are required to have a high proficiency in English.

The Pennington School
Founded in 1838, The Pennington School values both tradition and innovation, applying the values gleaned from centuries of learning, along with the most up-to-date knowledge, to a rapidly changing world. The Pennington School is committed to developing individual excellence in all of its students. An independent, coeducational school for students in grades 6–12, with both day and boarding programs, the school enrolls 488 students from six states and twelve countries. The challenging curriculum is college preparatory, with a strong emphasis on fostering the development of the whole student through academics, athletics, community service, and the creative and performing arts. Within the curriculum are also small programs for international students and for bright students with language-based learning differences.

Marianapolis Preparatory School
Marianapolis Preparatory School, located in Thompson, Conn., is an independent, Catholic day and boarding school for grades 9–12 and offers a wide range of honors and Advanced Placement courses for students of all faiths. Its 400 students hail from over 35 area towns and 20 countries. Students are exposed to a plethora of opportunities, including extracurricular activities, cultural trips abroad, the chance to hold leadership positions, and LEAP Week. Marianapolis is at the forefront of technology in and outside of the classroom, with its 1:1 iPad program and its Online Learning Program, where students can take classes from the comfort of their own homes anywhere in the world. Marianapolis students compete on champion athletic teams, develop fine- and performing-art talents, and serve the local community, all while preparing to attend the best colleges and universities.