The new students are coming from China through a new partnership between Donoho and the Cambridge Institute of International Education, a company that specializes in supporting international student programs.
Laura Phillips, dean of academics and lower school principal at Donoho, said the school decided to partner with the Cambridge Institute to both increase enrollment and to make the student body more diverse. The school has had international students intermittently, including one Chinese student, Ante Bing, who will graduate from Donoho this May, Phillips said.
It’s been an eye-opening experience for Donoho students who now have firsthand knowledge of another culture because of their interactions with Bing, she said.
For instance, the students noticed that Bing became very homesick around the Chinese New Year in late January. The day is a major holiday in China and everyone celebrates, Bing said. The students hatched a plan to make him feel more at home and approached the school administrators to set a surprise celebration in action, Phillips said.
“Everyone wore red to surprise him,” Phillips said. “Faculty, students, staff, everybody wore red. It was priceless.”
Bing was very moved by the gesture, he said. He didn’t expect such attention from Americans, he said.
“People here are super nice to me; I didn’t expect this,” Bing said. “I thought American people were not that nice, honestly. Maybe because of where I was born and people always talk about American people.”
That cultural exchange was a learning experience for both the native Donoho students and Bing, Phillips said.
“We see this as an academic and cultural journey that offers many benefits,” Phillips said of the new partnership.
Cambridge Institute contacted the school about partnering in the international student program, Phillips said. Before that, administrators hadn’t realized there was a market for students wanting to attend schools like Donoho and that the school could possibly host a steady flow of international students.
Representatives from Cambridge Institute couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, but the company’s website said it was founded in 2009 and has worked with more than 150 schools in 40 states to create the international student programs. It says its programs have generated more than $44 million for private high schools in the United States.
Donoho is ready for growth, Phillips said. But since the recession hit in 2008, the school hasn’t experienced that growth. Total enrollment has declined between 10 and 15 students over the last three years, Phillips said, as fewer new students enroll. The high school now has 105 students, though the campus was designed to accommodate about twice that many students, 48 in each grade level.
Phillips later said by email the school did not enter the program to increase enrollment.
John Ketterer, director of Jacksonville State University’s International House program, said Chinese families are increasingly interested in sending students to high-quality private boarding schools in the United States.
China has changed in the last 15 years or so, Ketterer said, becoming more open and jumping into the global market with both feet. Chinese parents’ desire to teach children more about the United States is a compliment to the country and its higher education system.
“They want to send their students here to learn as much as they can about us,” Ketterer said. “So they can be closer to us and more competitive.”
That’s why Americans should be sending their students to China as well, Ketterer said.
Bing said coming to the United States for high school was his idea. He wanted to attend an American university and thought attending a high school here would help him improve his English and help with the transition.
He has already been accepted to the University of Alabama, Auburn University and Pennsylvania State University, he said. Right now, Bing is leaning towards Penn State so he can experience another part of the country, he said.
Bing and the future Donoho students are among a flood of students making the trek to the United States for their education, according to a report from the Institute of International Education. The annual report, released earlier this month, states the number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities increased 6 percent this school year to a record high of 764,495.
By far, China sent the most students to the United States — 194,029 in 2011-12 school year. Indian students, the second largest group of international students, had fewer students during the 2011-12 school year than the year before with 100,270 students. Chinese students are also the fastest growing group of international students. Their numbers increased 23 percent from the 157,558 students in the 2010-2011 school year.
Those international students are pumping $22.7 billion into the national economy as well as helping to create relationships between the United States and future leaders worldwide, the report states.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.