Number of Vietnamese Students in the US Rebounds

“Viet Nam remains a shining star in a rather dark and gloomy international student recruitment galaxy for US educational institutions”

For those US colleagues who recruit in Viet Nam, there is some good news in challenging times.  According to the latest SEVIS by the Numbers update from March 2019, there are 30,684 Vietnamese students studying in the US at all levels, an increase of 3% over August 2018.  Overall, Vietnamese students in the US comprise 2.62% of total international enrollment vs. 2.47% last August.

As you can see below, Viet Nam still ranks fifth among sending countries and is now in the same statistical league as Saudi Arabia, which saw a sizable decline of nearly 9%.  (The only other top 10 sending country with an increase was Nigeria.) 

To put this in perspective, in October 2014 there were 77,135 Saudi students in the US, which means enrollments from that country have plummeted by nearly 50% during that time.  In the same period, Vietnamese students have increased by 31%.  At this rate, Viet Nam is likely to surpass Saudi Arabia as the fourth leading place of origin in the next couple of years, assuming this trend continues.

  • China: 369,364 (378,003) -8639 -2.29%
    2) India: 209,063 (227,199) -18136 -7.98%
    3) South Korea: 62,207 (64,022) -1815 -2.83%
    4) Saudi Arabia: 39,535 (43,413) -3878 -8.93%
    5) Viet Nam: 30,684 (29,788) (+896 students) +3%
    6) Canada: 29,219 (29,496) -277 -.94%
    7) Brazil: 28,110 (28,846) -736 -2.55%
    8) Taiwan: 23,762 (24,429) -667 -2.73%
    9) Japan: 22,378 (23,088) -710 -3.07%
    10) Nigeria: 15,890 (15,242) (+648 students) +4.25%

US Secondary Schools More Popular Than Ever

Most of the increase was among Vietnamese students attending boarding and day schools.   One reason was a spike in F-1 visas issued in January 2019 to 1,400 vs. 1,165 in January 2018.  The numerical increase from 8-18 to 3-19 was 642, or an impressive 18.49%.  Vietnamese high school students now make up 13.4% of the total enrollment vs. 11.7% last August.  This confirms what I have seen in my work and heard from others in the field.  Most of those high school students plan to attend a US college or university.

There is a strong desire on the part of many parents of means to send their junior high and high school children overseas for at least two reasons:  1) the cost is not that much higher than a growing number of in-country private schools, which I discussed in this 11-18 piece I wrote for the fall 2018 issue of NAFSA’s IEM (International Enrollment Management) Spotlight Newsletter; and, more importantly, 2) to help better prepare them, linguistically, academically, and culturally, for higher education in the US.

At the higher ed level, which comprises the majority of young Vietnamese studying in the US, the breakdown was as follows:

  • Language training:  5% (1,526)
  • Community college:  27.8% (8,530)
  • Four-year institutions:  36.4% (11,161)
  • MA programs:  9.2% (2,818)
  • Ph.D. programs:  4.8% (1,479)

Looking Ahead

While the wave appears to have broken, there are still reasons to be hopeful among US colleagues who recruit in Viet Nam.  It is one of the few major sending countries with a modest increase in the latest SEVIS by the Numbers update.  In addition, student visa issuances in the first seven months of the 2019 US government fiscal year are only 1.13% lower than in 2018.  (The final chapter of this year’s visa and in part the 2019/20 enrollment story will be told during the peak season that extends from May through August.)

“There is a strong desire on the part of many parents of means to send their junior high and high school children overseas”

From 2015 to 2018 the statistical bottom fell out of US student visas issuances across the board with a sharp decline of 288,349, or 42.53%, from 677,928 to 389,579.  During the same period, the number of F-1s visas issued to Vietnamese student decreased by only 8.62% from 17,848 to 16,309.   While less brilliant than in the past, Viet Nam remains a shining star in what has become a rather dark and gloomy international student recruitment galaxy for US educational institutions, especially higher education.

Despite the seismic shift to Canada, and all of the negatives notwithstanding, study in the USA is still very much a brand, there are strong ties between the 2.1 million Vietnamese-Americans and family members back home, and Donald Trump has yet to insult the nation of Viet Nam or the Vietnamese people.

“Donald Trump has yet to insult the nation of Viet Nam or the Vietnamese people”

In fact, during his November 2017 visit for the APEC Economic Leaders’ meeting in Danang and the subsequent state visit to Hanoi, he referred to Viet Nam as “one of the great miracles of the world,” and to Vietnamese students as “among the best students in the world.”  Naturally, both comments were well-received by the target audience, the Vietnamese people

Given the daunting challenges facing US recruiters in Viet Nam, certain institutions will continue to be successful in the medium term, including those with a proactive and long-term recruitment strategy that embraces an institution-appropriate mixture of recruitment-related services, in country and armchair, and cooperation with a select group of well-qualified and ethical agents.  (Some will benefit from the increasing number of direct applications.)  I see a number of recruitment success stories at both the secondary and postsecondary levels for reasons unique to each school and even among some institutions that are new to Viet Nam.

Dr. Mark Ashwill is managing director of Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company in Viet Nam with offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Ashwill blogs at An International Educator in Viet Nam.