The number of Chinese students at American colleges and universities jumped 43% in 2011 over 2010, according to the Institute of International Education. And now, more and more Chinese students are enrolling in American high schools. The trend is helping to stabilize Connecticut's private schools that have been grappling with declining enrollment in a weak economy.
When Christian Heritage School in Trumbull first starting accepting foreign students, Director of Admissions Martha Olson says most were from South Korea.
"But it really started to shift and I would say now my phone rings two or three times a day sometimes with people interested in sending Chinese students abroad."
She says the school values an internationally diverse student body. The foreign students also help to fill seats.
19-year old Kevin Zhuang came from China to study at Christian Heritage.
"My parents want me to go to a different environment and study a different language and there’s a lot more opportunity for me to get into a very good college in the US."
A burgeoning industry has developed in China to recruit students to US high schools.
David Guerrera is co-founder of a Connecticut-based company, Apex International Education Partners, which recruits Chinese students primarily for Catholic or Christian schools. Religious schools have been more affected by the recession than the state’s elite prep schools. Many have seen enrollment drop in the past few years.
"So by having international students who do usually end up paying full tuition to the school, this helps that problem."
According to the Archdiocese of Hartford, there were 7 international students enrolled in Connecticut Catholic schools five years ago. This year the state’s Catholic schools host 104 foreign students, primarily from China, who generate about 1.2 million tuition dollars. Most stay with host families, who receive stipends.
Guerrera describes demand as “huge”.
"With the rising wealth in China, a lot more parents want to provide their children with better opportunities and most of the opportunities starts with getting an American education. And the second part is to practice their English so they have a better chance of getting into a prestigious university."
In some states, public school districts feeling pinched for funds are also turning to international students, particularly from China. The Associated Press reports that two public high schools in Maine have 10 tuition-paying Chinese students this year.