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US: 20% growth in international students seeking high school diplomas

A growing number of international students are seeking US high school diplomas to leverage their entry into the country's university system.
August 10 2017
3 Min Read

A growing number of international students are seeking US high school diplomas to leverage their entry into the country’s university system.

According to the Institute for International Education, almost three quarters (72%) of international high school students studying at US high schools are on a diploma track, 22% more than in 2013.

The figures are based on the number of students on F-1 visas which indicate they are directly enrolled in the schools compared to those on a J-1 visa used for exchange programs.

Studying on an F-1 visa, the report argues, indicates a wish to attend US universities or colleges after graduating from high school.

“Most of these diploma-seeking students plan to enrol in US higher education institutions following their secondary studies”, it reads.

“We’re continuing to see that interest remains high in the US for Chinese students”

Alongside the increasing numbers of students seeking a diploma, the number of exchange students has also dropped by 7% over the same period.

While numbers of international secondary students remain high in the US, growth figures have slowed in recent years. Asked about the future of the sector, Christine Farrugia, the IIE report’s author, commented that the US remains a highly popular destination for Chinese students in particular, though students from other areas of the globe do have reservations.

“There’s students from other countries like India and from the Middle East, those are the ones who’ve been reporting stronger concerns about coming to the US,” she told The PIE News.

“But the Chinese student interest still remains high at the HE level and I expect it would be the same at the high school level.”

Indeed, of the Asian students on a path to graduate from high school, Chinese students dominate, making up 42% of international students enrolled in US high schools. The number of F-1 Chinese students increased by over 10,000 between 2013 and 2016.

The IIE report also shows that the intention to graduate with a US high school diploma differs among nationalities.

Asian students make up 78% of F-1 secondary students, with only 9% originating from Europe, and even fewer, 8%, from Latin America or the Caribbean.

In contrast, 67% of high school students on J-1 visas for shorter term study are European, with 22% Asian students and 8% again from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Bradley Farnsworth, the vice president of the Center for internationalization and global engagement at the American Council on Education, told The PIE News he is cautiously optimistic about the growing numbers of international high school graduates. 

The results of the report are encouraging, even with the decline in the growth rate. Nevertheless, we remain concerned about the sustainability of the growth rate for international tertiary students in the US, and in particular the potential impact of the domestic political climate,” he said. 

With more international students coming through domestic recruitment channels, some US admissions offices have been caught off guard, said Farrugia.

“Sometimes [domestic recruiters] are not prepared enough with information about what international students will need to do to apply,” she said. “I think that’s impacting the admissions practice at universities because they’re really recognising the need for domestic staff to be trained up on international issues.”

Similarly, a recent survey of college admissions counsellors in US high schools found they feel less confident giving advice to international high school students compared to US students.

“We remain concerned about the sustainability of the growth rate for international tertiary students in the US”

Globally, the US remains the most popular destination for international secondary students, with 81,981 enrolled in 2016 – a 12% increase from 2013. California schools are the most attractive among these students, with 12,201 enrolees. A distant second is New York state, with 6,059 students. The report credits Californian institutions’ strong international engagement for this domination.

The picture of international secondary education students around the anglophone world is roughly congruent with that seen in the US.

Growth rates are highest in Australia, where the number of foreign high school students has increased by 34% between 2013 and 2016. The growth is similarly driven by Chinese students, who make up 54% of the foreign students in the Australian secondary education system.

In Canada and the UK, the sector is also expanding, and though not as impressively as in Australia, the overall figures are still increasing. The UK has experienced a 7% growth to 27,633 international high school students, and 44,510 students in the Canadian system indicate growth of 9%.

Again, Chinese students are the major group in Canadian international secondary education, representing 55%. But the UK is the outlier, with only 23% of students from the Chinese mainland. However, a further 17% originate from Hong Kong.

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