China is a very important source of students for American education. And the money Chinese students bring with them has spawned an industry bent on seeing even more find their way here.
As of last year, a report from the Institute of International Education says more than 723,000 international students are studying at U.S. colleges and Universities. One out of five of those students are from China, far more than any other country.
And their numbers are growing. In 2011, 157,558 Chinese students were attending school in the United States, a 23.5 percent increase over the previous year.
That’s why many colleges and universities are busy trying to identify families from China who can afford to send their children to the United States to study.
But since many of those families want to give their children a head start on college, hundreds of private academic placement services have joined the competition. And they provide packages that sometimes find entire families with a place to live and enrollment for their children in high schools, and in some cases, middle schools.
One of those businesses is the Astar Education Institute located outside of Washington D.C. It’s a business model that’s doing very well.
“It’s very expensive,” according to the school’s assistant director, Candice Quinn. “All of our students and all of our families are of the upper echelon of the socio-economic background in China,” she said.
While refusing to divulge just how much Astar charges for its services, Ms. Quinn says all students must present a financial statement that shows they can support themselves for the length of time they will be in the United States just to qualify for a visa.
“They have to have, in a bank account, somewhere between $70,000 and $150,000.” said Ms. Quinn.
Ms. Quinn said the families of the Chinese students have to pay school tuition as well as a fee paid to a host family with whom the student resides while in the United States, unless they choose to attend a boarding school.
What do these students and their families get for this money?
“Our primary function is to place international students into United States Schools” said Ms. Quinn. Astar recruits many Chinese students using an office they maintain in Shanghai, and makes use of agents that specialize in such services in China.
Another aspect of the business is helping those students who lack the language skills to attend an American school. Those students will spend from three to six months to get them to a level of English proficiency so they can pass the kind of tests they need to go to a U.S. school, according to Ms. Quinn.
Although many of the students recruited by Astar are placed in U.S. high schools, that’s not their ultimate goal.
“The parent’s intention is not to have these kids terminate in a high school,” said Ms. Quinn. “They’re intention is for them to go to American universities, that’s the ultimate goal”.
And not just any university. “The parents want them to go to the top one hundred universities,” said Ms. Quinn. “So that is always the prize we have in mind.”