China & Vietnam: A Study in the USA Comparison

Given the  intriguing historical relationship between Vietnam and China, I thought it might be interesting to do a brief comparison between the two as it relates to study in the USA. But first, here’s some basic up-to-date (as of 2014) information about each country.


  • The population of China is estimated at 1,393,783,836 as of 1 July 2014.
  • China’s population is equivalent to 19.24% of the total world population.
  • China ranks number 1 in the list of countries by population.
  • The population density in China is 145 people per km2.
  • 54% of the population is urban (756,300,115 people in 2014).
  • The median age in China is 35.7 years.



  • The population of Vietnam is estimated at 92,547,959 as of 1 July, 2014.
  • Vietnam’s population represents 1.28% of the total world population.
  • Vietnam ranks number 14 in the list of countries by population.
  • The population density in Vietnam is 279 people per km2.
  • 33% of the population is urban (30,482,811 people)
  • The median age in Vietnam is 30.3 years.


The 2015 populations of China and Vietnam are 1,401,586,609 and 93,386,630, respectively. This means that China has 15 times as many people as Vietnam.  For what this figure is worth – it is, after all, only an aggregate indicator of economic growth – China’s per capita income of $6807 in 2013 was 3.56 times as high as Vietnam’s ($1911), according to The World Bank.

China, Vietnam & StudyUSA

As of February 2015, there were 25,982 Vietnamese studying in the US at the secondary and postsecondary levels and 331,371 Chinese. China is the world’s leading sending country for US-bound students while Vietnam ranks 7th.  While China’s population is 15 times larger than Vietnam’s, it has 12.75 times as many students in the US as Vietnam.

If you look at secondary (mostly boarding school) vs. higher education enrollment in the latest year for which both data sets are available (i.e., 2013) the breakdown was as follows:

Secondary Total

  • China: 23,562 (#1)
  • Vietnam: 2,289 (#6)

Postsecondary Total

  • China: 235,597 (#1)
  • Vietnam:  16,098 (#8)

87.6% and 12.4% of Vietnamese enrollment was in higher and secondary education, respectively. The figures for China were 91% and 9%.

Using the NAFSA formula for 2014, with information from IIE’s Open Doors Report and the US Department of Commerce, Chinese and Vietnamese students and their families contributed $8.04 billion and $543 million to the US economy last year.

Assuming the average annual cost of attending a US boarding school is $38,580, Chinese and Vietnamese parents paid at least $909 million and $88.3 million, respectively.  (Many are full-paying students at boarding schools in the 45k-55k range.)

It is safe to assume then that Vietnamese families spent over $631 million on secondary and postsecondary study in the US for their children while Chinese families spent nearly $9 billion.  (Memo to the purists:  pardon me for mixing data from 2013 and 2014.  I don’t have the economic impact information for Vietnam and China in 2013.  These are ballpark estimates anyway; this is not an exact science.)

Two Predictions

Like most, I don’t have a crystal ball so these are just educated guesses based on the above data and some information that I have not included about the state of higher education in each country.

Something to keep in mind is that each country has experienced dramatic growth over the past few decades but that Vietnam had a very different starting point because of two consecutive wars, the devastating impact of a US-led economic embargo that dated to 1965 and was lifted in 1994 and post-war poverty.  In terms of urbanization and median age China is now what Vietnam is quickly becoming.

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb by making the following predictions:

  1. Chinese enrollments at both levels will peak and begin to decline.  China’s population (35.7 years) is quite a bit older than Vietnam’s (30.3 median age) and there are more and more quality educational opportunities available at home.
  2. Vietnamese enrollments at both levels will continue to increase.  Vietnam has a younger median age, incomes continue to rise and it will be a while before the domestic higher education system improves to the extent that most Vietnamese of means will want to send their children to local institutions.

This is yet another reason why US colleges and universities should diversify their international recruiting strategy to include the four emerging markets identified in a recent World Education Services (WES) survey:  Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia and Nigeria.


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