SD73 has multi-million-dollar international plan
The Kamloops-Thompson school district unveiled Thursday a plan to inject millions of dollars into the local economy by increasing the number of international students in area classrooms.
If successful, the program, unique among school districts in B.C., will see the number of international students in SD73 schools increase from 67 to more than 200.
"Last year, we did a major reconfiguration of the school district," said SD73 superintendent Terry Sullivan.
"We certainly consolidated a number of schools, we closed a number of schools. We were really looking at the expenditure side of the balance sheet.
"Now, we really have to find a way to help ourselves, so revenues and partnerships are two things we've concentrated our efforts on this year."
Sullivan said SD73 signed an agreement with the provincial government last June that made the local district the first in the province eligible to offer online international learning.
The planned international-student increase is a joint venture between SD73 and the district's business company, which will allow some of the money generated to stay in the program and help it grow.
International student program principal Carol Rimmer said a lot of that money will go toward marketing the program.
"Marketing is a very important piece to making sure we meet our goal of growing the program," she said.
"It's about trust and making sure people know what we're all about."
According to SD73, its 67 international students in 2010 injected about $2.55 million in economic spinoff for the Kamloops area. If the number of students grows to 200, that economic impact will jump to $7.6 million.
Over the last five years, SD73's international-students program has generated between $100,000 and $200,000 annually in profit. That money has gone back into the district's general revenue.
Under the new program, Sullivan said, the district will re-invest those profits in marketing to further grow the program.
"One of the reasons the program has plateaued is we have not been re-investing in the program," he said.
With its approval from Victoria, SD73 will now begin to offer both online and traditional education programs for international students.
Some instances will even see a hybrid approach — referred to by the district as "two-for-one" — with students taking one year of courses online before relocating to Kamloops to finish their studies.
An agreement for a two-for-one education program has recently been signed for a group of Chinese students expected to begin their online studies in the next two or three years.
Thompson Rivers University, which itself recently announced plans for an expanded international program, is also on board.
SD73 international online program principal Dean Coder said students who complete the program will be offered "assured entry" into TRU.
"We develop standards for students that are in alignment with the Dogwood education program," he said.
"What TRU has said is, 'OK, if they meet your standards, that means they're ready for a post-secondary education.'
"It certainly allows us to have a better marketing for international students."
Sullivan said he expects other school districts to ask the province for similar approvals in the near future.
For now, he said, it's nice to be the only district in B.C. able to offer international studies online.
"Quite frankly, I don't think it'll last very long," he said of the school district's unique position.
"The potential is absolutely huge."
An intake of 15 Chinese students is expected in the fall. The first two-for-one students aren't expected to begin studies with SD73 until at least 2012.