The international student program in School District 69 (Qualicum) is a money maker and during budget deliberations this week there were more calls to expand the program in hopes of generating even more revenue for the school district.
After expenses including staffing and recruiting the school district makes just under $400,000 from the program.
During the public question period at the April 11 budget meeting, Martin Stewart and Jake West asked board members to come up with a solid business plan for the program that would increase the number of international students in the district and in turn bring in even more money.
Stewart, who ran unsuccessfully for a school board seat in the last election, has been lobbying to expand the international program and asked the board to grow the program not only to earn revenue but to expand the diversity of cultures here.
West, a teacher on call, asked if there was any way they could go after more funding for the program through grants. He suggested students become involved in marketing the international student program.
“Why don’t we have students writing grants? They can obtain skills by writing business plans and they will need those skills because it is competitive out there,” he stated and added, “It is an unbelievable brand we have here but we just need to sell it.”
Trustee Julie Austin said she would welcome input from West and Stewart and invited them to participate in their upcoming strategic planning meetings.
She suggested West come up with a presentation and breakdown of his numbers for the board to look at.
Superintendent Jim Ansell pointed out that bringing in more foreign students won’t solve their budget woes and in fact could create some other challenges.
“We have class size limits. If we put more students in and go over class limits we have to justify that enrollment and then at some point have to start adding teachers,” he stated and added that to hire one teacher would cost $100,000.
He said it is a delicate balancing act.
“At some point if we double the size of program we wouldn’t double our income because we would have to hire teachers and that cuts into profit margin. If we add a single teacher our profit drops.”
He said they just can’t open the gates and bring in hundreds of foreign students in a district this size for many reasons but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to expand the program.
“If there was a million dollars to be made on this we would not turn away from it.”
Ansell also pointed out that part of the success of their international program is based on the curriculum and the B.C. experience and if they change the dynamics of it they may lose foreign students.
“If we saturate the district with too many international students they will not get the Canadian experience that they came here for.”
He said language can be a challenge for international students and part of their education is to learn English. He said if there are too many international students in one class they tend to stick together and then they don’t get immersed in the Canadian culture.
“The kids are in a foreign place and some don’t have language skills so it is natural for them to stick together,” he said.
He stressed that if there are too many international students in a class, their recruiting agents would get complaints from parents of foreign students and they would likely move them to another district for their education.
Austin said now is the time to look at new ideas including pursuing grants.
“It’s a great fit with our strategic plan and personalized learning,” she admitted and added the board will be looking into it.