This organization, whose slogan is Low-immigration, Pro-immigrant, is not one whose work I would normally cite but this is a well-researched report. It is about an important issue I have been writing for quite some time now, a lone voice in the US higher education accreditation wilderness, so to speak. There is more than one loophole, by the way. The bottom line, both figuratively and literally, is that these institutions are gaming the system. Sometimes, the “free market” is too free.
The accreditor mentioned, ACICS, was derecognized by the US Department of Education in the waning days of the Obama Administration. While I hoped for the best, i.e., that ACICS would go the way of the dinosaur, thereby resulting in the loss of institutional accreditation for all of its accredited institutions, I also had the nagging feeling that this ruling would appear on someone’s radar in the Trump Administration. Why? Because there’s so much money at $take.
This is an account of how, because of a loophole in the immigration law, dozens of U.S.-based, fourth-rate purveyors of higher education have had multiple negative impacts on the United States while raking in multi-millions of dollars. In the course of this they have:
Provided F-1 visas and work permits to tens of thousands of foreign “students”, many of whom are really illegal aliens in disguise;
Supplied nominal educational services, if any, to those aliens;
Charged those students substantial to outrageous fees;
Misled their students on the state of the entities’ academic accreditations;
Engaged in a variety of shady financial practices; and, in some cases
Used their status as “universities” to hire a suspiciously large numbers of aliens through the H-1B program, including, for example, English professors from Turkey;
Provided suspiciously large numbers of multiple-year OPT work permissions to their lightly educated alien alumni; and, in two or three cases,
Used their status as IRS-recognized charities to avoid substantial state and federal taxes.
Another problem is most regionally accredited (RA) institutions do not accept credits or credentials (degrees) from nationally accredited schools, for obvious reasons. (RA is considered to be the gold standard of institutional accreditation.) This is a fact that many NA schools do not share with prospective students.
Since information is power, or at least helps in many decision-making processes, I am always looking for trends based on statistics and other data. In the last (2017) fiscal year (FY) ending on 30 September 2017, a record 100,423 B-1,2 (tourist and business) visas were issued to Vietnamese citizens.
The number of student visas issued during the same time was 17,275. While the US State Department does not release this information, one can assume – based on anecdotal sources – that the refusal rate is much higher for student visas, more so at the US Consulate in HCMC, which is considered a high fraud post, than at the US Embassy in Hanoi. Check out this March 2018 blog post for more information about US student visas and Vietnamese students.
What is Adjusted Refusal Rate?
Before we take a look at some visas stats from FY06 to FY17, here’s a definition of this term. The visa waiver program nonimmigrant visitor refusal rate is based on the worldwide number of applicants for visitor (B) visas who are nationals of that country. (B visas are issued for short-term business or pleasure travel to the US.) The US State Department omits all applications from the calculation except the last one. For example, if an applicant was refused in May and issued a visa in July of the same year, only the issuance will count. If an applicant is refused twice, it will only be counted as one refusal.
In rare cases, an applicant may end the year in a third category, “overcome.” This happens when a consular officer has the information s/he needs to overcome a refusal but has not processed the case to completion.
Thus, theadjusted refusal rate equals: [Refusals minus Overcomes] divided by [Issuances plus Refusals minus Overcomes].
Example: Determination of B Visa Adjusted Refusal Rate for Country X: Country X, worldwide, had 305,024 B visa applicants end the fiscal year in the “issuance” status; 20,548 end in “refused” status; and 88 end in “overcome” status. Refusals minus Overcomes = 20,548 – 88 = 20,460 Issuances plus Refusals minus Overcomes = 305,024 + 20,548 – 88 = 325,484 20,460 divided by 325,484 = 6.3 percent (Adjusted Refusal Rate)
The complete description, from which the above formula was excerpted, can be downloaded here. (This file includes links to refusal rate data from FY06 to FY17.)
The Ups and Downs of B Visa Issuance Rates
Last year, the adjusted refusal rate was 24.06%, which means that the issuance rate was 75.94%. If 100,423 B visas were issued, a total of about 132,000 Vietnamese citizens applied for a B visa from 1 October 2016 to 30 September 2017. The number of B visa issued jumped from 5,231 in 2006 to over 100,000 in 2017, a nineteen-fold increase in 11 years. Follow this link to review this and related data.
The factors that have contributed to substantial increases in B visa issuances include growing ability to afford overseas travel for pleasure and more business ties between Viet Nam and the US, which has produced an ever-expanding pool of applicants. Another likely reason is that there are simply more qualified applicants. The highest denial rate was in 2006 and the lowest in 2014.
Vingroup is a $13.87 billion Vietnamese conglomerate whose businesses cover some of the most important aspects of human existence, including healthcare (Vinmec International Hospital), housing (Vinhomes houses, condos, and serviced apartments), education (Vinschool, VinUniversity), food (VinMart convenience stores, supermarkets), animal feed (related to food), pharmaceuticals and health food/supplements, recreation (Vinpearl, Vinpearl Land), shopping (Vincom Retail) and, most recently, transportation (VinFast).
In other words, Vingroup has a lot of bases covered in a country whose economy is on fire with a rapidly growing middle class. Some joke that the only item missing in this nearly cradle-to-grave approach to doing business and meeting the needs of Vietnamese consumers is a chain of funeral homes.
While some, including Vietnamese and expats, have complained about the quality of some of its businesses, including the design of its homes, for example, or the emphasis on profit maximization at the cost of green space and aesthetics in its housing and shopping complexes, the fact remains that Vingroup as a whole is extraordinarily successful and that most Vietnamese heart Vingroup. (Its stock value, which increased 83% last year, is one indication of just much investors like Vingroup. It is because of that torrid growth that Mr. Vượng, its chairman, is now worth twice as much as Donald Trump.)
VinUniversity, in partnership with Cornell University, an Ivy League school ranked 14th among national universities, is the latest addition to the Vingroup empire. Follow this link to read a 3 April 2018 PIE News article by Matthew Camara for which I was interviewed. (Vingroup is also working with the University of Pennsylvania, another Ivy League institution.)
Here is an unabridged version of his questions and my answers.
1. What was your general reaction to the news that Cornell will be working with VinGroup to build a new university in Hanoi?
I was not surprised in the least. This has been in the works ever since Vingroup hired a consultant a couple of years ago to explore the possibility of cooperating with a top 50 US college or university.
2. What is Vingroup trying to accomplish here? What does Cornell get from this (beyond the financial relationship)? How does this initiative fit with Vingroup’s other education projects?
I believe that Mr. Phạm Nhật Vượng, the chairman of Vingroup, is trying to create a world-class university and he happens to have the means with which to make that happen. I don’t think it’s about making more money. My guess is it’s more about legacy, including making a significant and lasting contribution to Vietnamese society. And, yes, a fringe benefit is that it will further strengthen Vingroup’s position as one of Viet Nam premier corporations and provide yet another highly visible means of branding Vingroup not only in Viet Nam but internationally.
What does Cornell get? In addition to the obvious financial benefit, the VinUniversity project will enable selected Cornell faculty and staff to gain valuable experience in Viet Nam in an exciting period of unprecedented growth and development. Finally, this partnership, ideally culminating in the establishment of an international standard university, will be yet another feather in Cornell’s global service cap.
How does this initiative fit with Vingroup’s other education projects? It dovetails very nicely with the nationwide network of current and future Vinschools whose high school graduates may wish to attend an in country institution of higher education such as VinUniversity.
3. How might the new “VinUniversity” impact the domestic education market and the study abroad market? Are parents looking for options to keep their kids closer to home?
If it materializes as planned, it will give Vietnamese students yet another opportunity to pursue higher education at home at modest cost, in addition to other students from the region. From the perspective of Vietnamese parents, this will have the win-win benefit of saving money (for those for whom that is important) and keeping their children closer to home during their still formative undergraduate years.
4. Having worked with many Vietnamese students and parents, what do you think their reaction will be to VinUniversity? Is the idea of going to a school named after a conglomerate going to be a turn off for them? What sort of nuances or details will VinGroup need to work out to appeal to parents/students?
Again, assuming the university is able to deliver what it promises, I think that most Vietnamese parents and students will welcome VinUniversity. The entity behind it is one of the most well-known corporations in Viet Nam, including in the education sphere, e.g., Vinschool. The partnership with Cornell University, an Ivy League institution that ranks 14th among national US universities, according to the latest US News & World Report ranking, is unique, and will certainly make VinUniversity even more attractive.
5. RMIT has been in Vietnam for 17+ years, Fulbright University plans to open soon, the Vietnamese-German University is here now, Broward College operates a partnership program. How many international (or, in this case, semi-international) universities can Vietnam sustain? Is the market set to become congested now that RMIT’s non-compete agreement has expired?
As the ability to afford international standard higher education continues to grow and with large numbers of Vietnamese students studying overseas, about 150,000 in the top five host countries alone, I think that it will be a while before supply meets demand.
6. An education industry source of mine told me that study abroad will remain a must-have for wealthy families until an accessible, regional option becomes available (i.e., not NUS because it’s too selective) that families perceive as having the same quality as an overseas school. He speculated that Fulbright University might be able to do that. Do you agree with his premise and, if you do, could VinUniversity fill that niche?
I agree and believe that VinUniversity could very well fill that niche, perhaps even better and faster than Fulbright University Vietnam, especially in view of the partnership with Cornell and the amount of money Vingroup is willing to invest in the short-term. From what I’ve seen, Vingroup is fully prepared to its money where its vision is.
I have the opportunity to look at a lot of digital marketing produced by educational institutions and am sorry to say that most of it is of subpar quality. Sometimes, I’ll even take a screenshot of an unimpressive example and send it to the colleague from the offending institution with a diplomatic suggestion or two for improvement.
Here are a few examples of how not to use digital marketing, which result in a waste of precious time and marketing money.
Facebook Ad in English: Since this is Viet Nam, it makes sense to have your ad in Vietnamese, if you want Vietnamese netizens to click on it. If you are using the same ad in many countries, you might want to consider a country-specific approach. One size does not fit all in marketing, as in many other areas involving different target audiences.
In addition, parents are the key decision makers and very few are proficient in English. Most decide where their children will study and, in the case of higher education, what they will study. In a discussion about hard copy promotional materials, I once had a US colleague tell me her institution expected a certain level of English proficiency, e.g., 79/80 TOEFL iBT score. My (obvious) response was it’s more for the parents, who control the purse strings.
It’s also a good idea to make it easy for young people to understand the information – easily and quickly. They’ll have plenty of time to perfect their English, if they complete the long path from application, to admission, to visa issuance, to arrival in the host country, and your school.
Unspiring Text and Photo: The quality and appeal of both the text and photo are key determinants of whether or not someone will click on it to obtain more information. I’ve seen barren photos that are unlikely to motivate a Vietnamese student or parent to click for more.
Landing Page in English: Even if you have excellent text in Vietnamese and an exciting photo, the process may end abruptly, if the link takes them to an English language landing page. It’s best to have that information in Vietnamese or both languages.
For all of the above, you should solicit in country feedback from members of your target audience using a focus group. At worst, it’s back to the drawing board, Or perhaps only a few minor edits are required. This could very well mean the difference between effective digital marketing and so much virtual pissing in the wind, to coin a phrase.
I’m still shaking my head in disbelief, wondering why NAFSA: Association of International Educators chose Laura Bush as a plenary speaker for its 2018 annual conference in Philadelphia, PA, USA. What does she have to offer international educators who attend these speeches to learn something, gain a new insight or two, be inspired? Here’s her bio on NAFSA’s website:
Laura W. Bush, former first lady of the United States, is an advocate for literacy, education, and human rights.
As first lady, Mrs. Bush advocated the importance of literacy and education to advance opportunity for America’s young people and foster healthy families and communities. She highlighted the need for preparing children to become lifelong learners, convening a White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development in 2001 and creating the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.
What’s not to like about supporting “literacy and education to advance opportunity for America’s young people and foster healthy families and communities”? What, pray tell, does that have to do with the work of international educators?
What’s not to like about human rights, which her husband and his administration trampled on, both in the US and in other countries, most notably Afghanistan and Iraq, during their disastrous eight-year rule? While I don’t hold Ms. Bush responsible for the sins of her husband and that cabal of neocons, there is a certain distasteful dishonor by association and hypocrisy at work here.
It’s not Laura Bush’s fault that she’s speaking at this international education conference. It is NAFSA, after all, that invited her. Let’s assign blame where blame is due. What were the powers that be at NAFSA thinking? Wasn’t there anyone else (and better) from whom the audience could actually learn something new, gain a new insight, or be inspired?
Here’s a spot-on analysis from one colleague who shares my disgust and disappointment at this choice and the organization that is behind it:
I think the aspect I most dislike is how these niceties normalize war and US led-violence. There will be thousands of attendees sitting in respectful attention, listening to tired platitudes, and leaving with a saccharine feeling about what a genteel lady Laura Bush is. I remember when a NAFSA attendee confronted Colin Powell during his plenary speech about his role in BSing the US into the Iraq invasion. It was great stuff. But too confrontational for NAFSA. So fast forward to today and, if I’m not mistaken, NO live questions will be allowed of Laura B. Gotta keep it sanitized!
I wonder how much it will cost to have Ms. Bush tell thousands of international educators what a great job they’re doing and how important their work is? The Washington Speakers Bureau, which represents Laura Bush, describes her as one of the most popular first ladies in history and a compelling advocate for issues of national and global concern. Seriously?
While I’m not going to hold my breath that this will actually happen, here’s something for NAFSA to think about for future conferences. Since this is a professional association that relies on membership dues and conference fees for its fiscal survival, why doesn’t it put these speakers to a vote rather than making these decision behind closed doors, or at least make a concerted effort to seek member input?
A colleague asked me if I was planning to attend this plenary session or if could meet with her during that time. You can guess what my response was. My hope is that 50 people show up. A guy can dream, can’t he?
Postscript: One of my sources told me that the “conversation” was about the Bush family. My neck is getting tired. Still shaking my head in disbelief.
Who’s next for NAFSA 2019, First Lady Melania Trump, Betsy “Amway” DeVos, Secretary of Education, or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary?
Bonus: Here’s a radio commentary I did in 2004 in response to a speech at that year’s NAFSA annual conference in which the speaker, a Bush/Cheney political appointee, said that one can no longer claim to “hate this government’s policies but love the country.” In other words, government and country are one in the eyes of a US nationalist aka neocon. For some reason this went over most colleagues’ heads. Can you guess who the speaker was? Hint: He used to work for IIE. Yes. Really.
This matter-of-fact assertion does not (and should not) come as a surprise to US colleagues who recruit internationally. Here’s a recent story that inspired this post, so to speak, plus a heartfelt appeal.
I noticed that a number of students had applied to, been admitted by, and received visas to attend a particular school in the US. This interest was the result of a couple of public events and, of course, what the school has to offer, including solid academics and attractive scholarships for qualified and deserving students.
Amazingly, there would have been one more student but she withdrew her application because of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on 14 February 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Her parents decided not to send her to study in the US. (Maybe the USA’s loss is Canada’s gain, in this case?) So, yes, safety, as an essential element of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, is a primary concern among parents, as it is for all of us. The writing is on the recruitment wall and those of us who help international students study in the US ignore it at our collective peril.
While the number of young Vietnamese studying in the US is still healthy, these cases give one pause. You might say that this one student is insignificant because there were 31,613 Vietnamese students in the US, as of March 2018, but there are signs that others are following suit. For example, there are about 15,000 Vietnamese students in Canada, nearly half as many as there are in the US, a country with nine times the population and thousands more educational institutions.
Remarkably, Vietnamese students had the highest percentage increase in 2017 at 89%, making Viet Nam the fastest growing market in the country. Canada is now a top five host country for Vietnamese students, after Japan, the USA, and Australia, followed by China.
While US education, both secondary and postsecondary, is still a brand, it no longer sells itself. Current news, e.g., the mass shooting du jour, a relatively high student visa denial rate, the latest policy announcement to require social media information from all visa applicants for the past five (5) years, the latest missile strike, and a roiling cauldron of perceptions (and misperceptions) can have a decisive impact on where a young person studies.
Do You Have Any I HEART Vietnamese Students Stories?
I’ve heard stories from many colleagues about how much they value and appreciate Vietnamese students, not only for the financial contributions they make to their host institution and the communities in which they are located, but their academic performance, their integration into the campus community, their leadership qualities, and their positive attitude.
I would like ask those of you who have worked with Vietnamese students and have such a story share it with me in a 750-word essay, including photos and quotes, if possible. I will take some of these essays and incorporate material into an article about Vietnamese students. I would also like to translate some into Vietnamese and share them widely. By doing this, you will be helping to promote study in the USA in Viet Nam and, indirectly, promoting your institution. Now more than ever is the time to show them (more) love.
Please contact me at markashwill[AT]capstonevietnam.com, if you’re interested in contributing an essay.
The title of this post was the ominous title of a recent article in the Vietnamese media. Below is the photo that accompanied the article. Much of the air pollution Viet Nam in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is caused by motorbikes. Why not require that all motorbikes sold in Viet Nam be hybrid instead of using a traditional combustion engine? What about hybrid cars, which are non-existent?
40% of Viet Nam’s power is generated by hydropower plants. While coal is projected to cover over half of all electricity production by 2030, the government is also targeting renewables such as solar and wind as a high priority. Fortunately, it made the decision to move away from nuclear power.
The Pot Calling the Kettle Black?
Aside from these obvious points, I was struck by the broader political context of the comments made by this US-educated Vietnamese professor from Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV), essentially a US university. His recommendation is precious, a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Which country is the biggest carbon polluter in history? You know who. Which country walked away from the Paris (Climate) Agreement? You know who. Which country is among the biggest polluters in the world? Ditto.
The United States of America currently ranks 2nd with about 5,414 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. China is #1 but the difference between the two countries is that China is actually trying to do something about it and its contribution to global air pollution is recent, coinciding with its rapid economic development. The US can’t seem to break the fossil fuel habit and its leadership is in denial about climate change.
Anytime the US government is involved, or any government, for that matter, there has to be an agenda. What’s the agenda here? A colleague suggested the following tongue-in-cheek panel topic at a Vietnamese university: “What should the international community’s response be to a rogue nation that’s disproportionately responsible for the world’s pollution and has just pulled out of the Paris Agreement?” Now THAT would make for one hell of a discussion. (I wonder if FUV would consider hosting it, “he asks in a fleeting moment of fantasy.”)
Consider the source. Always. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Or perhaps this is yet another case of “do as we say not as we do”?