We really enjoyed a recent article from AdmissionsQuest by Trip Darrin, Assistant Headmaster for Enrollment & Marketing at Blue Ridge School in St. George, Virginia.  Darrin gives a frank and pragmatic assessment of why China’s economic growth (and thirst for American education) is significant for American boarding schools.

But wait, it’s not what you think.  It’s not just that with the growth of China’s wealth, more Chinese applicants flood American schools (though Darrin touches on that), or that the flood will only increase in coming years (he says that too).

Darrin suggests that understanding China’s hunger for an American education is illuminated by considering Chinese families as consumers shopping for luxury brands. This parallel is extremely important for American schools who want to position themselves to better prepared for this continued relationship .

Status, prestige, and group approval are all significant drivers in the decision making process of Chinese consumers. Boarding schools have been flooded by Chinese applicants since 2006. The flood may triple or quadruple in size in the coming years.

So what does this mean for American boarding schools? Darrin breaks it down for schools in terms of 1) development/advancement, 2) admissions/enrollment management, and 3) opportunity.


Darrin notes that “establishing a culture of giving back will take time” but that there are “fundraising options” through which “Chinese families can accomplish two things simultaneously:  1) they “give back” to an institution that is helping their family and 2) they are helping their child to have an even better educational experience in the years ahead.”

One example that Darrin gives would be especially welcome among Chinese students: a named scholarship fund specifically allocated for students from their community in China.

Admissions/Enrollment Management

To recruit and market your school in China, Darrin notes, requires tailoring your strategy to that country. He is spot on in his list of the particulars of the China market, in particular with guanxi.

Guanxi – a Chinese term that refers to a network of contacts, connections, relationships; a sense of mutual indebtedness based on trust that is cultivated and strengthened over time. It is of extreme importance to take time to build strong relationships with key people in China. This requires regular travel – at least once per year. It also requires regular correspondence…

Some additional considerations are:

  • Status/prestige, a huge selling point for US schools. Image and reputation are vulnerable and need to be protected
  • Total numbers of Chinese students enrolled – too many can make a school look unattractive as an institutional destination

We especially agree with what Darrin has to say about China as an opportunity:

International student totals are on the rise and China is largely responsible for the increase. But it’s not just another source of students. Schools are in the unique position to build important bridges between Chinese and American cultures, strengthening ties between two countries that will need to partner closely in a future likely to feature more widely shared global leadership.

He highlights some great ways in which schools are already engaging with China

  • Mandarin language programs
  • Translation of school literature and webpages into Mandarin
Further Suggestions

We have a few further suggestions to add to this:

  • Consider drawing upon your Chinese student population for help with language projects, translating school literature or webpages into Chinese; this can be a great way to help Chinese students integrate into the school community, and promote a sense of identification with the school that would help with future giving back.
  • Looking among faculty and administrative ranks for those with China background and/or China expertise.  These can be people who have lived and worked in China or other parts of east Asia, have Chinese parentage or ancestry, They can be a surprising source of advice and knowledge on decisions that schools plan to make about Chinese applicants and enrolled Chinese students.
  • Consider experimenting with an official social media account in Chinese (ex. Weibo, China’s version of Twitter); your international student population can a valuable pool of resources here again.

We definitely agree with Darrin’s conclusion, where he notes that though some Americans may perceive China as a threat due to its priorities in global matters, China is pragmatically open to international cooperation, and that schools can take a lead in promoting this cooperation.  Schools play a key role in educating and shaping international students from China, a growing number of whom will spend years in the US acquiring an American education and values.  These students are not only valuable members of each school community, but also will be contributing members of their home society.

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