BANGOR, Maine — Four Maine high schools and two Maine colleges hope to recruit students from a country that, so far, has not typically sent many young people to Maine: Kazakhstan.
Husson University, Thomas College, Lee Academy, Lincoln Academy, Maine School of Science and Mathematics and Cheverus High School will send representatives on a recruiting trip to Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic, organized by the Maine International Trade Center in September.
“We are constantly looking to new countries to diversify our international student population,” said Sheryl Stearns, director of enrollment and marketing at Lincoln Academy. “We currently have 64 international students from 14 different countries, including Russia, China, Czech Republic, Spain and Vietnam.”
Stearns said that over the past few years, Lincoln Academy, which serves 520 students, has predominantly hosted international students from China. This coming school year, 29 out of the 64 students from abroad will come from that country.
After several years of educating about a dozen international students and housing them with host families, Lincoln Academy started a boarding program last year, Stearns said.
“We’ve gone down this road for many of the same reasons as our colleagues, because of the declining demographics,” she said.
The student population in Maine has been steadily decreasing over the past several decades, according to Maine’s Department of Education. In the 1970s, there were about 250,000 students in the public school system, compared with 184,367 in the 2013-14 school year.
“In order to keep the programs we have, and expand those programs for our students, we’ve embarked on the boarding program,” she said.
Kazakhstan, which borders Russia and China, has an emerging middle class, and families are interested in educating their children in the United States, said Janine Bisaillon-Cary, president of the Maine International Trade Center and state director of international trade.
The country has 37,000 students studying abroad and the demand for an English education is growing, according to the Maine International Trade Center.
Bisaillon-Cary said Kazakhstan was selected because the trade center heard from some of the 19 schools that are part of their educational consortium that there was interest in the country.
She added that it’s a good fit because Maine companies are already beginning to do more business in Kazakhstan, usually making parts and selling systems that are used by the growing oil industry there.
The trip is part of the Maine International Trade Center’s education initiative, which is called StudyMaine. The program works with high schools and colleges to recruit students from abroad and bring them to Maine.
Last year, representatives from three Maine schools participated in a trade center trip to Mexico and Colombia. In total, the three schools reported bringing in an estimate of between $400,000 and $500,000 in tuition dollars during the course of the year, Bisaillon-Cary said.
In 2011, the trade center organized a different student recruitment trip to Korea.
In Kazakhstan, each school representative will tour local schools, present at student fairs and meet with agents who work in countries where students are interested in studying abroad to connect them with schools. Agents often get paid based on the number of students they place in particular schools, a practice that can be illegal if done in the U.S.
Schools participating in the trip to Kazakhstan contribute $6,500 each. The Maine International Trade Center is not paid based on the number of students it helps schools recruit.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Maine School of Science and Mathematics.