The Okanagan Skaha School District has seen a major success in this last year’s international students program, which brought in well over the anticipated tuition.
In a review of the 2016/17 school year during a business committee meeting, School District 67 board trustees learned the budgeted $750,000 from international tuitions fell well below the actual revenues generated from the program, at just under $1.1 million.
But excess funds generated last year won’t be going directly back into the school district’s operations this year, said Superintendent Wendy Hyer. In a lesson learned after the global economic crash in 2008 that curbed international tuitions, the school district holds onto excess revenue.
“All of a sudden, kids weren’t studying abroad, and so everybody felt that impact with fewer students, and districts who were counting on that money were in a difficult situation,” Hyer said. “So we never spend the money before we have it in the bank.”
Last school year, SD67 reported a total of 90.3 full-time equivalent international students enrolled in the program, which includes students who stayed anywhere from a few months to a full semester to a full year.
Combined, Hyer estimates about 120 students were enrolled in the program in Penticton, which she said came from a number of places, including Australia, Austria, Vietnam and Venezuela, among others.
But the four countries students most commonly came from were China, Germany, Mexico and Japan, according to Hyer.
Hyer said in most cases families haven’t tossed a dart at a map and wound up in Penticton; the school district uses agents, including two with exclusive contracts in Germany, to solicit international students around the world.
Last year’s numbers are a considerable increase from just a few years ago, when Hyer said only about 25 students were enrolled.
But while there’s more room to grow in the schools, Hyer said there’s a challenge in finding homestay families, when the international program is competing with about 100 students at the Okanagan Hockey Academy for homestay spots.
“When you combine those two programs, we’ve probably got over 200 kids from out of district, here, and that’s pretty good,” Hyer said. “Some of those kids with Okanagan Hockey Academy are from other parts of B.C., and some of them are international and will pay a tuition fee.”
Vernon’s school district has a couple hundred international students, while Kelowna’s district has potentially over 400, according to Hyer. Meanwhile, coast districts like the Vancouver School Board will have up into the thousands.
“So it’s a big business for British Columbia.”