The International Market: What Independent Schools Need to Know

The International Market: What Independent Schools Need to Know

As the world becomes ever more interconnected and as economic dynamics shift, the demand for English-language education is exploding. This demand is resulting in significant changes in existing K-12 educational programs and the emergence of new options.

To unpack the opportunities and challenges presented by the ever-changing global marketplace, The Enrollment Management Association released the report Understanding the International Market: A primer for independent school enrollment leaders, heads, and boards in spring 2016. In it, we examined three aspects of the international education marketplace and their impact on the independent school market:

+ The international export of U.S. education U.S. universities have the largest number of post-secondary branch campuses abroad, and some independent schools are now launching into international markets with their own place-based programs in order to increase all-school revenue, expand their international curriculum, and/or enhance overall prestige and visibility for their U.S. “headquarters” schools.

+ The growth of English-medium schools worldwide International schools are changing. They no longer serve just expat communities. Indeed, many local residents in various countries worldwide have expressed growing interest in an English-medium education. ISC Research Ltd. reports that in 2000 there were 1 million students in 2,854 global English-medium international schools; by January 2016, this number jumped to 4.36 million students in 8,218 schools. Enrollment leaders in these international “English-medium” schools must be equipped to navigate a more competitive landscape.

+ The enrollment of international students in U.S. and Canadian schools – both boarding and day The number of international students enrolling at U.S. and Canadian schools has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade. In 2011, The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) reported that its member schools enrolled more than twice as many international students as they did in 1994-95 and that the number of international students increases by 3,500 every eight years. According to our 2016 State of the Independent School Admission Industry report (, 48% of responding schools (97% of boarding schools and 37% of day schools) enrolled international students in FY2016.

For any and all schools looking to enter the international student market—or expand within it—one message rings loud and clear among the practitioners we interviewed for Understanding the International Market: It’s a complex endeavor that must be handled thoughtfully. Here are five guiding principles further explored in this special report:

  1. Gain a full understanding of the market. Shattuck-St. Mary’s School (MN) wanted to diversify and expand its offerings in the name of sustainability and growth. With this end goal in mind, an initial team (including the COO, school head, and board members) formed to carefully and thoroughly explore countries open to “importing” a U.S. education model. They opened within a Chinese school for 2015-16 and are building in Forest City (Malaysia) with an expectation of opening the campus in fall 2017.
  2. Build the necessary foundation. Old Trail School (OH), also profiled in our report, is interested in the possibility of establishing a global partnership and/or a satellite campus. But the school leadership recognizes that it must first take important initial steps such as enriching its current global curriculum, developing technology infrastructure, and managing staffing and logistical issues.
  3. Maintain brand alignment. Working within any aspect of the international student market brings complex challenges for admission teams—they must have the backing of school leadership in order to manage successful expansion. In our report, we interviewed Soleiman Dias, the director of admission at Chadwick International, a Korean campus of Chadwick School (CA). He reminds school leaders, “Fusing an American independent school with an international school is not an easy task; there is a constant quest for alignment and a need to manage multiple perspectives.”
  4. Commit budget dollars to get it right. For American schools looking to enroll international students, travel is a significant new budget line item that must be justified to the board and leadership; if schools make decisions based on ROI but without long term investment in a country, they will not be successful. Joshua D. Clark, director of admissions at Hawaii Preparatory Academy (HI), explains, “Building a robust international admission program that provides consistency in student quality requires travel.”
  5. Ensure professional development for admission directors. Evaluating international students and/or exploring new global markets takes knowledge and experience beyond what some admission directors currently possess. They must be supported to expand their knowledge.

At The Enrollment Management Association, we’ll continue to monitor the exciting and quickly changing international school marketplace with the goal of equipping independent schools with information and enrollment strategies to help them succeed. Download the full report here.

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