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Private High Schools Banking On International Students

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(credit: CBS) Liz Collin
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – There are teenagers who move half way around the world to Minnesota…for high school.

Nearly 24,000 Chinese students study in private American high schools. Hundreds of them are here in Minnesota with the goal of competing in a global world.

Sheen Chen is from Shanghai. She is one of 15 students from overseas studying at the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield this year.

The school wants that number to double by fall. Currently, the school charges around $13,000 for tuition. International students pay about $5,000 more.

“It’s a different way of doing business,” said Jesse Foley, the school’s director of admissions.

In February, Foley spent eight days in Beijing and Shanghai as part of the school’s very first recruiting trip overseas. He met with more than 100 families, pitching a Catholic education in Minnesota.

“In China, with so many students and so many schools, these families are looking for differentiators,” he said.

Competition among kids is fierce in China from the very beginning. A college degree from the U.S. is coveted, and some families see a high school education in the states as an avenue to secure that.

For Chinese students, life in the U.S. couldn’t be more different than the 12-hour school day they grew used to.

“I’d eat dinner and I start doing my homework all the way until 1 o’clock in the morning,” said Xin Chen, a senior at Holy Angels.

While academics come first at Holy Angels, students are also pushed to make friends, be social and have fun.

It’s no secret that one of the biggest benefits from recruiting overseas is what it adds to these schools’ bottom lines. Pricey private school educations were hit hard by the recession, and as fewer people worship at church, a Christian education has become less of a priority.

“Education has changed over the years. Private education has changed over the years. You just can’t count on the same ways to fund these schools that we have in the past,” said Tom Shipley, the president of Holy Angels.

He added: “How do we fund this school and sustain in down the road? Programs like this make that a great opportunity.”

Across the Twin Cities, classrooms in West St. Paul offer even more diversity.

St. Croix Lutheran, for instance, calls itself the global leader in Christian education. It boasts having 104 international students from 17 countries. Twenty percent of its students are from overseas. Most live on campus, just steps away from school.

Overseas students pay $25,000 a year, but that also covers boarding.

International students say faith plays a role in their choice to go to a religious school.

“This is a Christian school, so this is one of the main reasons why I come here,” said Yu-Ling Liu, a St. Croix Lutheran senior.

Other private Minnesota high schools use St. Croix as a model.

Since, international students pay thousands more in tuition to cover extra expenses like housing…that money means more opportunity for everyone.

“When you have more critical mass and a larger student body, your curriculum absolutely can become more diversified,” said Gene Pfeifer, St. Croix Lutheran’s president.

At Holy Angels, a drive to succeed takes a front seat to any feelings of homesickness.

When one student was asked if it was difficult being away from his home and culture, he responded: Not really, we have this thing called Skype.”

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