This is the English version of part I of a two-part interview with me that recently appeared in the Vietnamese media. Follow this link to read part II.
In the five years since Capstone Vietnam was established, it has earned a reputation in Vietnam, the U.S. and elsewhere for quality and innovation, and is emerging as a leader in the field of educational consulting and human resource development. The company offers a variety of education and training solutions for individual and institutional clients.
In this interview Dr. Mark Ashwill, Managing Director, looks back at the work of Capstone Vietnam, the evolution of the industry as a whole and overseas study trends. In addition, he offers some advice for parents and students.
Can you reflect on your efforts to develop your business and reputation over the past five years in the field of educational consulting?
We initially focused on providing an array of services to U.S. and other foreign institutions interested in recruiting Vietnamese students and engaging in other in country activities. The latter include higher education and high school fairs, information sessions, high school outreach, study tours, academic matchmaking, exploratory trips for senior higher education colleagues, marketing and promotion, etc. Next, we began to phase in overseas study advising at all levels.
While our initial and primary focus was on study in the USA because of interest, demand and my background, we have expanded to include other countries of interest such as Australia, Canada and the UK.
One of our most ambitious institutional services, which benefits both students and institutional partners, are our International Academic Centers (IACs). An IAC is a shared facility that serves as a home base from which institutions can promote their programs and services in Vietnam, and even regionally. This includes hiring a local staff member who serves as a country or regional coordinator. Current IAC partners include Kansas State University and Southern Illinois University Carbondale in Hanoi and Lane Community College and Shorelight Education – on behalf of Florida International University, the University of Central Florida and the University of Kansas – in HCMC.
Capstone started in Hanoi, where I live and where our main office is located, and opened a branch office in 2012 in HCMC. There may be additional offices in the future, which will give us the opportunity to expand our reach and serve clients in dynamic new locations.
It has been five years of hard work, sacrifice, ups and downs, rewards and, ultimately, a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment at what we have been able to achieve – together. Five years of doing our best to live our corporate values, Integrity, Learning, Global Awareness, Innovation and Results.
Our mission is simple yet supremely challenging: to leverage opportunities for individuals and institutions to succeed through a variety of high-quality education and training solutions. Capstone is defined as a “high point” or “crowning achievement,” the best an individual or organization can achieve, and the inspiration for our slogan Reaching New Heights. We are dedicated to enabling our clients to do just that, be it through institutional services, overseas study advising or other education and training activities. Our slogan guides us, inspires us and propels us forward, as do our values.
What is the value that Capstone Vietnam has brought to the Vietnamese people, particularly the students?
I believe that Capstone Vietnam has created something new, something fresh, something that meets a need and fills a void in the marketplace. This newness includes our services, our approach and our way of doing business. For example, we are – to my knowledge – the only company in Vietnam that works exclusively with regionally accredited colleges and universities in the U.S., which represent the gold standard of accreditation.
Our approach to advising is unique in that we don’t drive students to partner schools. Students and their parents are our clients and we don’t want to limit their options or their opportunities. I call Capstone Vietnam the EducationUSA of the private sector because we want what’s best for every student. A student who ends up attending a partner school receives a refund of the fee. If s/he attends a non-partner school, we keep the fee. This, we believe, is the most ethical approach to educational advising.
We offer visa counseling to students who want or need it. We demystify the process, explain about the law that consular officers are charged with enforcing and give students an idea of the types of questions they can expect to hear during the interview.
We don’t script them nor do we supply or encourage the use of fraudulent documents. We ask that they tell the truth to us and the consular officer who will be adjudicating their case. As a result, the issuance rate for Capstone students is extremely high. Last summer, it was nearly 90% for U.S. student visas.
Finally, we adhere to the highest ethical standards in the way we do business and work with our clients, both individuals, i.e., students and parents, and institutional. It is a tough and competitive business but we don’t cut corners and are transparent. We firmly believe that doing business ethically makes for better business, in addition to being the right thing to do.
One of the reasons I know that Capstone Vietnam has broken new ground and is a trailblazer in a number of respects is that other companies are copying what we’re doing. In an article last year entitled Why copycats are the best thing to happen to your company, Brian Wong, CEO and co-founder of Kiip, a mobile rewards network based in San Francisco, asked – on a positive note – “what is a copycat business other than evidence that you’ve created a solution that taps into and services a real need?”
What do you think of the current overseas study trends among Vietnamese students?
Interest in overseas study remains high. This is the result of the convergence of several factors, including the desire and search for quality and innovative education, access to information (e.g., from the Internet), and the ability to pay. Last year, there were 125,000 young Vietnamese studying overseas, a 15% increase over 2012, according to the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET). The top five countries were Australia, the U.S., Japan, China and Singapore – in that order. (Two-thirds of all Vietnamese studying overseas last year were in enrolled in educational institutions in these countries.) 90% were self-financing, which means that parents invested over $1.5 billion in the overseas education of their sons and daughters.
As of October 2014, there were 23,407 Vietnamese students in the U.S. at all levels. That represents an astounding 21% increase since July 2014, second only to China (22%). This means that Vietnam is one of the fastest growing markets in the world for US-bound international students. Vietnam ranks 8th among all sending countries, 5th in undergraduate enrollment (almost evenly split between community colleges and four-year schools) and 3rd in international enrollment at community colleges.
In high school enrollment in the U.S. Vietnam ranks 6th – in the same tier as Brazil (#5) and Mexico (#4) – with 2,289 students . This means that last year 12.4% of all Vietnamese students were attending an American high school or boarding school and 87.5% were enrolled in an institution of higher education.
While there are concerns about a brain drain, Dr. Nguyen Thien Nhan, Chair of the Vietnam Fatherland Front and former Minister of Education and Training and Deputy Prime Minister, recently stated during a visit to Hanoi-Amsterdam High School for the Gifted that Vietnamese students are not required return to Vietnam after finishing their studies overseas, as they can serve the fatherland anywhere in the world. Some continue for further study, others find a good job and work for a few years before returning home, while others make the decision to live overseas. I agree with Dr. Nhan that they all benefit Vietnam in some way.
In short, the number of Vietnamese studying overseas at the secondary and postsecondary levels will continue to increase into the foreseeable future, in my opinion.