On Sept. 20, Premier Christy Clark made an announcement that nobody was expecting - her government would be taking new steps to increase the number of international students in B.C. schools by 50 per cent over the next four years.
At current levels, she said that international students generate about 22,000 jobs in the province and add $1.25 billion to the economy.
For the Sea to Sky School District that should be an attainable goal, given that they've already been working to attract international students - increasing numbers by double digits over the past two years.
"At the moment we have 118 international students, from about 20 different countries," said Amy Shoup, international student manager at the school district.
"From 2009-2010 to 2010-2011 we increased our numbers 11 per cent, and from last year to this year we increased a further 12 per cent, so we're in a sustainable level of growth and we do see that continuing for the next three years."
The number of students has grown and receded over the years. For example, one elementary school program that is now defunct used to draw over 60 elementary students from Korea each year. As well, the number of students will sometimes depend on external factors such as the economy and events like the H1N1 flu crisis.
Shoup and her assistant Mike Weeks spend a lot of time on the road recruiting students to the school district. Shoup just returned from a trip to Germany and in November will head to Mexico. Weeks is currently on a recruitment trip that will include China, Taiwan and Japan.
There is a financial benefit to recruiting the students, with each student paying $12,000 per year to attend public school, as well as various fees for processing applications. Some of the enrollment fees do go back into schools.
The student's family is also responsible for paying for insurance and home stay costs, which can be over $1,000 per month for room and board.
But more important than the economic benefits are the cultural benefits for schools in the district, said Shoup.
"What's more important is to talk about how the presence of international students strengthens education in Sea to Sky and provides an enriching experience for the students and the resident students as well," said Shoup. "It helps prepare international and resident students for life in the global economy and the global community that the world is today."
While she prefers to talk about the less tangible benefits of hosting international students, Shoup said the economic case is well established - both for schools and the communities as a whole. The latest estimate is that a single international student spins off $34,000 in economic benefits for the community.