A private company in China is considering the purchase of a campus from the University of Connecticut to turn the campus into an international school.
Weiming Education Group announced an agreement to buy the 58-acre campus, one of five regional college campuses, located in West Hartford at a cost of $12.6 million. The University is selling the campus in anticipation of building at a new location.
According to chief executive Tim DiScipio, the academy would enroll 500 students from around the world. After two years at the academy, the goal is to have them then transfer to area high schools. Local teachers and students would also be given the opportunity to participate in exchange programs to China.
However, opposition to the sale is increasing, as local officials recently learned that the company is under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for the possibility of not following federal visa laws at a similar program being run in Michigan.
Community members are also up in arms over the issue, sharing concerns that the academy will mix public schools with a foreign company who is mostly concerned with making a profit. They have also expressed worries over how the introduction of hundreds of foreign students into public schools will affect classes, athletics programs, and competition in college admissions.
"Public schools are a public resource," said Christopher Barnes, a town councilor in West Hartford, a middle-class town of about 61,000. "They shouldn't be for sale."
As the largest provider of private schools in China, Weiming Education Group said it enrolls over 40,000 students in 42 schools. It first came to the United States in 2012 when it began to send students from China to participate in "partner" high schools, reports David Matthews for Times Higher Education.
Students pay an average of $40,000 to Weiming, which then pays districts around $10,000 per student.
Weiming's goal is to encourage students to teach in Asia at the company's international schools.
"The outstanding academic reputation of both West Hartford and the State of Connecticut is what has led to Weiming's interest in possibly locating at the University of Connecticut property," says Tim DiScipio, US chief executive of Weiming, in a letter from the group to local city leaders arguing the case for the purchase.
"Connecticut leads the nation in academic excellence, the state high schools rank #1 in the combined Northeast and New England region, and the significant talent pool of teachers and administrators with advanced degrees is an important factor."
Weiming is moving into other locations currently dominated by companies from the UK, US, and Australia by offering help to partner universities in the US improve skills in the English language as well as boost the academic proficiency of Chinese international students, writes Laura Krantz for The Boston Globe.
In a separate deal with Hartford, Weiming signed a three-and-a-half-year agreement to begin a pilot program that would allow as many as 30 Weiming students to study in the district for two years.
The contract also will ask local officials to help create a curriculum for use in Weiming's schools in China, and could allow their teachers to come to West Hartford for training.
While the deal with UConn is close to becoming final, the town still has the opportunity to match the offer and purchase the property instead.