In the news: Chinese students looking for the elite American boarding school experience, Marvelwood School, a U.S. boarding school, said to be disillusioned

Chinese Students Lose as U.S. Schools Exploit Need[1] (Bloomberg, Oct 20, 2011)

By Daniel Golden

Seeking the world’s best education, Guan Wang’s parents in northeast China paid an agency there $4,700 to get her into a premier American boarding school in 2009.

The company steered her to the Marvelwood School[2], which charges Chinese students $52,000 a year. She relied on the agency’s assurances that the Kent, Connecticut school was coveted and academically rigorous, with 20 Chinese students among its 155 boarders, Wang said.

Marvelwood didn’t fulfill those expectations, Wang said. She had so many Chinese dormmates that she couldn’t practice English. Some Americans in her world history course would forget their textbooks and lay their heads on their desks, she said. The school accepts four of five applicants, its average SAT score is below the national norm, and since 2005, one graduate attended an Ivy League college. Half its U.S. students have learning differences, from attention deficit disorder to Asperger’s Syndrome, headmaster Arthur Goodearl Jr. said. About 40 boarders came from China last year.

“I couldn’t find a real American education at Marvelwood,” said Wang, 19, who transferred to another Connecticut boarding school with fewer Chinese and learning-disabled students. “It made me not really happy.”

Boarding schools with small endowments and less selective admissions policies are boosting their revenue and enrollment by recruiting thousands of Chinese students who pay full freight. As the weak economy has shrunk the pool of well-off U.S. applicants, many of these schools are using agents with misleading sales pitches to tap a growing number of wealthy families in China eager for the prestige of an American degree.

100-Fold Growth

The number of Chinese students at U.S. private high schools soared more than 100-fold to 6,725 in 2010-11 from 65 in 2005- 06, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. China has displaced South Korea as the top source of international students at boarding schools, with the smallest schools having the biggest increases in Chinese enrollment, said Peter Upham, executive director of the Association of Boarding Schools in Asheville, North Carolina.

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