Sell­ing col­lege, over­seas

U.S. re­cruiters find a grow­ing mar­ket, es­pe­cially in Viet­nam

- By Mary Beth Marklein USA TO­DAY Society · Education · College · Higher Education · Ho Chi Minh City · Vietnam · United States of America · Wyoming · Lone Star · Texas · Philadelphia Union · University of Miami · Australia · Washington State · Washington · Sheridan College · Sheridan · New World Hotel · American Association of Community Colleges · American Association · Institute of International Education · English · Lone Star College System · Irwin · Kim Lien

HO CHI MINH CITY, Viet­nam — Be­sides the brochures, ap­pli­ca­tion forms and give­away trin­kets spread on the ta­ble in front of her, Clau­dia Col­nar keeps a U.S. map handy. In­evitably, “Where’s Wy­oming?” is the first ques­tion she’ll get when re­cruit­ing Viet­namese stu­dents to her com­mu­nity col­lege.

Her re­sponse goes be­yond ge­og­ra­phy. Wy­oming is home to Amer­i­can In­dian tribes, na­tional parks and snow, she says. She tells par­ents that Sheri­dan Col­lege, her cam­pus, is in a safe, ru­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

Col­nar’s trip last year, her first to Viet­nam, yielded no en­roll­ments. This week, she’s try­ing again. “We’d be re­miss if we didn’t,” she says.

At the New World Ho­tel, 700 stu­dents and their par­ents poured into a fancy ball­room to lear n ab out 23 U. S. schools par­tic­i­pat­ing in last year’s Asian re­cruit­ment tour organized by the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Com­mu­nity Colleges.

Other coun­tries may send more stu­dents to the USA, but en­roll­ment of Viet­namese stu­dents in U.S. colleges and uni­ver­si­ties is grow­ing fastest. It jumped 45%, to 8,769, in 2007-2008, the lat­est data avail­able. The world­wide in­crease av­er­aged 7%.

About 85% of visas for Viet­namese stu­dents are is­sued in Ho Chi Minh City; most of those — more than 5,000 — go to stu­dents who plan to start at a two-year col­lege.

Spe­cial re­port

A grow­ing num­ber of com­mu­nity col­lege stu­dents are study­ing abroad — but tight re­sources threaten th­ese pi­o­neer­ing pro­grams. At High­­ato­

Mar­ket ‘on fire’ in Viet­nam

“The mar­ket for com­mu­nity colleges is on fire here,” says Mark Ash­will, who un­til re­cently di­rected the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion in Viet­nam, which co-hosted the fair. Most stu­dents plan to earn a bach­e­lor’s de­gree, but com­mu­nity colleges are an at­trac­tive place to start. They tend to be more flex­i­ble about lan­guage re­quire­ments and don’t re­quire ad­mis­sions test scores.

Mean­while, de­mand for higher ed­u­ca­tion far out­strips sup­ply here. And rapidly grow­ing in­comes mean many ur­ban fam­i­lies can af­ford the cost of a U.S. col­lege ed­u­ca­tion.

“I want her to have a bet­ter fu­ture,” says Do Thi Kim Lien, a sec­re­tary at the fair on this af­ter­noon with daugh­ter Pham Ngoc My Linh, 20. Linh has stud­ied English and is in­ter­ested in study­ing hos­pi­tal­ity man­age­ment. “When I come back to Viet­nam, I’ll have a good job,” she says.

In­ter­na­tional stu­dents con­trib­ute more than $15.5 bil­lion in tu­ition and liv­ing ex- penses to the U.S. econ­omy, through their ex­pen­di­tures on tu­ition and liv­ing ex­penses, mak­ing U.S higher ed­u­ca­tion one of the coun­try’s largest ser­vice-sec­tor ex­ports.

In­spir­ing their class­mates

Sev­eral re­cruiters here say for­eign stu­dents also of­ten in­spire their class­mates.

“Th­ese in­ter­na­tional stu­dents are so driven. They want to suc­ceed,” says Nithy Se­van­thi­nathan, di­rec­tor of in­ter­na­tional pro­grams for the Lone Star Col­lege Sys­tem in Texas, where about 2,100 of 51,000 stu­dents, or 4%, are for­eign; about 120 are Viet­namese. When U.S. stu­dents get to know them, he says, “Their own dreams be­come broader and greater.”

De­spite those ben­e­fits, in­ter­na­tional re­cruit­ing can be a slow and chal­leng­ing process. The U.S. Con­sulate here has gained a rep­u­ta­tion for hav­ing strict visa re­quire­ments. A 2005 study by Aus­tralia, for ex­am­ple, found that while Viet­namese stu­dents would pre­fer the USA, they are more likely to en­roll in Aus­tralian colleges.

“Most of my friends in­ter­viewed to get a (U.S.) visa, but most of them failed,” says Nguyen Duc Dung, 24, a for­mer English teacher who is study­ing busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion in Ho Chi Minh City. His sis­ter, Vo Thi Thanh Tu, 18, hoped to at­tend a com­mu­nity col­lege in Wash­ing­ton state but was not granted a visa. Now, her brother says, she is study­ing in Aus­tralia.

Michael Micha­lak, U.S. am­bas­sador to Viet­nam, says he is com­mit­ted to in­creas­ing Viet­namese stu­dent en­roll­ments in U.S. colleges. But, he stresses, visa ap­pli­cants must be able to demon­strate that they are “bona fide stu­dents,” have been ac­cepted at an in­sti­tu­tion, can pay for their ed­u­ca­tion, and “have a plan for us­ing that ed­u­ca­tion when re­turn­ing to Viet­nam.”

For com­mu­nity colleges, that means pa­tience is key. Se­van­thi­nathan took home con­tact in­for­ma­tion for 40 stu­dents last year, and three ap­plied for ad­mis­sion. But as with Col­nar, none of that in­ter­est trans­lated into en­roll­ments this fall. He’s also back this year.

Ju­dith Ir­win, who organized the trip as di­rec­tor of in­ter­na­tional pro­grams and ser­vices of the as­so­ci­a­tion, says it typ­i­cally takes three to five years for a school to see the fruits of their work. “It takes time and fol­lowup. It’s not an in­ex­pen­sive en­deavor.”

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