Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wealthy Chinese Students - All Aboard!

Give us your huddled masses ladened with fistfuls of yuan

Top US boarding schools have long enjoyed an enviable reputation as the preserve of some of the world’s best and brightest students. Naturally, as Asia’s prosperity has outpaced the rest of the world over the past few years, applications from the region - particularly China – have swollen epidemically. Acceptance rates to the best schools have plummeted into the single digits, making high school applications as challenging as top ivy league universities. The rush of demand from Chinese applicants has presented the well-established boarding schools with both an opportunity and a problem. Clearly, they can cherry pick incredibly talented individuals to fill their student ranks. However, the schools are double-constrained by size and a desire to maintain diversity in the student body. International students tend to be capped at the 15-20% range. Several admissions officers have also expressed concerns that students from Asia tend to be narrowly dimensioned and have limited English-language skills. As a result, acceptances for Asia students have not nearly kept pace with the snowballing piles of applications from the region.
One of the schools looking to fill this demand gap is Leman Manhattan Preparatory School. As reported in this New York Times article, Leman has introduced a boarding component to its program. Of the international 40 or so incoming students this fall, 27 are from China. That represents a whopping 20% of the entire class. The students will be housed in newly-converted studio apartments near Wall Street. And, mind you, these are not your typical austere student dormitories that reek of mold and stale Cheetos. They are located in a luxury building above a Tiffany store, and feature marble bathrooms and beanbags.  The cost? $67.000 a year for tuition, room and board. This compares to c. $50,000 for the top boarding schools in the New England and surrounding Northeast states. Ouch. But New York City is not cheap, especially if you want comfort and style. This cost factor is the leading reason why the city has not had boarding schools until now (even though there are a number of leading “prep” day schools).
Leman is a relatively new school that was taken over two years ago by the Meritas international school chain. They (and a few other Manhattan schools with similar plans) clearly have ambitions to make a name for themselves on the global stage. Tapping into an equally ambitious and eager pool of well-heeled families from China may prove to be a winning formula to get noticed. That is, so long as the school is able to keep the students studying in classrooms longer than browsing the aisles of Bergdorf Goodman.

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