Janesville Aims To Bring In More International Students

Home » Here and Now » All Episodes » Janesville Aims To Bring In More International Students

Janesville Aims To Bring In More International Students

Premiere Date: 
December 13, 2013

The school district seeks to expand its foreign exchange program by up to 150.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

But first this week, a unique approach to help fund Wisconsin schools. The Janesville school district is exploring options to recruit foreign students, up to 150, tuition-paying international students as a way to bolster enrollment and revenues, as well as foster cultural exchange. The Janesville school board has hammered out rules governing how this will work and awaits further action in January. Joining us this week are Janesville schools’ superintendent Dr. Karen Schulte and chief information officer, Dr. Robert Smiley. Thanks to both of you for being here.

Karen Schulte:

Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

First to you, Superintendent. Why does the district want to embark on this?

Karen Schulte:

Well, it's an interesting story. First of all, about seven years ago, a school board member who is now a senator, Tim Cullen, had us explore world languages and what the most current languages were, and we looked at Chinese. So we started a Chinese program for our students in elementary school. We ran that program for a number of years. We continue to run it. And we found that our students were really good in it. In fact, so good that they were selected as one of the best Chinese programs in the nation. So as that continued to happen, we started to get some interest from a group called the Asia Society to have us visit China. In the same time period, the last seven years, we had some interesting things happen to our community. As you are aware of, GM closed, which meant decrease in enrollment for us, meant decrease in revenue for us. So all these things were happening together, basically around the same time. Our board decided to set some goals for us, and three goals in particular. One, to raise student achievement. One, to raise enrollment, so there's the enrollment piece. And also to raise revenue. So as we started to look at this, we found out that Chinese students were very interested in studying in the United States. And I happened upon an article called "China Connections," and there was a school district in Oxford, Michigan doing this type of work. And they were bringing in international students, increasing enrollment and also increasing revenue.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, I want to get a chance to jump to Dr. Smiley here and ask, you just returned from Asia, including China, and you were in some schools there. Are students there-- they are interested in coming here, but have you selected specific schools or programs that might come?

Robert Smiley:

We have schools that we're working extremely closely with in Beijing, --, Shanghai --. We have just a number of schools that we're really intimately working with to develop that pipeline of students coming to the United States.

Frederica Freyberg:

And those students will have to test into the Janesville schools or–

Robert Smiley:

We're going to be very selective. There will be tests for English proficiency, academic record. We're going to be highly careful about the students we invite, because we want them to be successful here.

Frederica Freyberg:

Also, I understand you want to inject a little bit of competition for our own students with these highly-selective students coming out of China.

Karen Schulte:

We want our students in Janesville to have a global advantage. We want them to know when they go out into the workforce in a couple of years what their competition is for the jobs of the future, the 21st century jobs.

Frederica Freyberg:

What kind of tuition have you set in the district for an incoming international student?

Karen Schulte:

We actually just set tuition. We have our first student coming second semester. We're very excited about that. So the total amount will be $24,000. The tuition piece of that is $14,000, but we also need to look at room and board as well, whether it's a host family or a dorm situation. So there are a number of costs that will be involved in that. This student's only coming for one semester to start, so it will be half of that, of course.

Frederica Freyberg:

That's quite a hefty tuition. It's also the flop-- the flip-flop of school vouchers. I mean, it's a public school getting private tuition money.

Karen Schulte:

I looked at other school districts. There are other school districts that are doing this in the state of Wisconsin. I looked at their tuition, both public and private schools, I should say. So I looked at their tuition and some tuition models outside of the state as well, and we set the tuition at that amount.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, you get more enrollment, presumably, if you get the full number of students you might anticipate, does the increased enrollment give you increased state aid on top of the private tuition?

Robert Smiley:

It doesn't. We're actually forbidden in the state of Wisconsin from collecting both tuition as well as getting state aid on top of that.

Frederica Freyberg:

So what's the benefit of increased enrollment other than the tuition money?

Robert Smiley:

Well, for example, take a really high end class like AP computer science, where maybe we have enough students to make it run, maybe we don't. But when we bring in the students that we’re selecting to bring in from China, that will help make sure those classes are full so they will run, they'll be able to offer those courses for the students in Janesville.

Karen Schulte:

It's bigger than that for us. We want our students to have that cultural exchange. That's not really new to Janesville or most other school districts. We've been doing cultural exchange for years. Not so much with Asia or China. China has really opened up. And we want our kids to know these students, to speak Chinese to them, as they speak English to us.

Frederica Freyberg:

What's been the reaction from the community?

Karen Schulte:

I would say it's been mixed. We have a lot of support. I have the majority of my school board, eight members, really support this project, and lots of community support. But there have been some naysayers, too, wondering why would we bring those people over to our community? Why would we want to open our doors? Isn't there a great expense to doing this? Actually, there hasn't been a great expense. We have traveled to China a number of times. We've had business donors that have donated money to the project. And the Asia Society has funded a number of trips, as they do for school districts all over the nation.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, Dr. Smiley, I understand, too, that you're looking for host families and those families have to serve as the parent role for these students, but there's also some suggestion for off-site dormitories.

Robert Smiley:

Well, we’re looking at those options. There's an investigator from China, his name is Wong --who's bought the Old South Beloit Inn, and he's turning it into both a hotel and dorm setting. There's also options with UW-Rock and some other options that's we're looking at. So we're exploring all of our options.

Karen Schulte:

And we'll probably use all of them. If they all come to fruition, it will be whatever the student needs.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, very briefly, what about the state, DPI? Do you have to get permission from them?

Karen Schulte:

We are in conversation with them. Our attorneys are speaking to their attorneys. So we have given the information to them as it's come about. So, yes, we are working it out with them, of course.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Well, we'd love to visit when your students come. Dr. Schulte, Dr. Smiley, thanks very much.

Robert Smiley:

We'd love to have you come down and see us.

Frederica Freyberg:

Thanks.

Karen Schulte:

Thank you. 


We’d love to hear from you. Please send us your comment or story suggestion.

Get to know the Here and Now crew.

Find information on elections and candidates and connect to coverage from Wisconsin Public Television and Radio.