US Community Colleges Still Popular Among Vietnamese But Gap Has Closed with Four-Year Schools

top 10 CC enrollment
IIE Open Doors 2017

According to IIE’s Open Doors 2017 report, based on a survey administered in fall 2016, Viet Nam ranks 2nd in the number of international students enrolled at US community colleges (CCs) at 9.9% of the total (96,472). 

Open Doors 2017 cover
Open Doors 2017 Cover (IIE)

There are a total of 9,551 Vietnamese studying at two-year institutions, many in California, Texas, and Washington, and most with the intention of following the 2+2 model, transferring to a four-year institution after two (2) years and completing a bachelor’s degree. (That number had decreased to 9,077 by the end of the 2017 academic year, according to the May 2017 SEVIS update.)

Since the total number of Vietnamese at US colleges and universities was 22,438 last year and 68% of them were undergraduates, this means that 63% were CC students.  There has, however, been a sea change in the overall enrollment picture over the last seven years.  In 2009/10, 90% of all Vietnamese undergraduates were enrolled in a CC.  (Going back another five years, there was little to no awareness of the advantages of beginning one’s US higher education experience at a CC in 2005.)  

Reasons for this dramatic shift from CCs to four-year schools include greater numbers of Vietnamese studying in the US – from 13,112 in 2009/10 to 22,438 in 2016/17, a 42% increase in six years, more four-year institutions with lower cost, and a growing ability to pay among parents.

VN students 5-17
May 2017 SEVIS by the Numbers

While there is still considerable interest in US community colleges for the usual reasons, including the high school completion program in WA, and CCs remain an important source of students for four-year institutions, the gap is closing.  As of May 2017, using SEVIS numbers, CCs and four-year schools were almost even at 30% and 29.7% of degree-seeking undergraduate enrollment, respectively. 





Fall 2017 EducationUSA Community College Fairs

EdUSA CC fair 2017.png

This fall, EducationUSA, i.e., US Mission-Viet Nam through its Embassy in Hanoi and Consulate in HCMC, is organizing a community college fair series in three cities in southern and central Viet Nam.  According to the official description,

The series will offer opportunities to meet students in three major cities where demand for this sector of U.S. higher education is growing. Vietnam is now the 2nd leading country of origin for students at community colleges in the United States and the 6th leading country of origin for international students overall. Registration is open now to all accredited U.S. community colleges.

(As of June 2017, Viet Nam ranks 5th among all sending countries, having displaced Canada in March.  Read this 25 June 2017 VNExpress International article and this 7 July 2017 University World News article for up-to-date information.)

The cities and dates are as follows:

  • HCMC on 3 October
  • Can Tho on 4 October
  • Hue on 6 October

While it has been decreasing in recent years, demand for community colleges (CC) as a pathway to four-year institutions and a Bachelor’s degree remains strong among Vietnamese parents and students, especially in these regions of the country.  According to the latest (June 2017) SEVIS by the Numbers update, 30% of all Vietnamese students in the US are enrolled in a CC while 29.7% are studying at a four-year college or university.  (In 2009/10, 90% of all Vietnamese undergrads started out at a CC.)

may 2017 ed level breakdown VN
June 2017 SEVIS by the Numbers Update

Clearly, the most promising location among the three is HCMC, which is where the majority of CC students are coming from.  There are far fewer students coming from the other two cities because of less ability to pay and a higher visa denial rate.  This fair series is an example of a probable mismatch between US State Department and US community college goals.  The former are focused on outreach as a manifestation of the exercise of soft power while the latter are here to recruit students for their institutions.




US Community Colleges Made a Comeback Among Vietnamese Students in 2015/16!

2plus2Last academic year, there was a spike in Vietnamese enrollment in US community colleges (CC) over the previous year.  According to Open Doors 2016, Viet Nam ranked 2nd – after China – with 9.6% of total enrollment in a community college.

This means that 9,156 Vietnamese students began their US higher education at a two-year school with the goal of transferring to a four-year institution to complete their Bachelor’s degree.  Since the undergraduate enrollment was 14,383, approximately 64% of all Vietnamese undergraduates in the US were community college students.

Before my CC colleagues get too excited, keep in mind that these Open Doors 2016 data are from fall 2015, i.e., already a year old.  The percentages of Vietnamese students who begin their studies at a four-year institution or a community college are almost even, based on the latest 11/16 SEVIS quarterly update.  (CC enrollment is 29.3% vs. 31% for four-year schools.)  This has been the trend, with occasional deviations, since 2009/10.

That was a time when 90% (!) of all Vietnamese undergraduates were enrolled in a CC with most following a 2+2 path.  In 2005, CCs were virtually unknown in Viet Nam.  THAT’S the power of the media and word-of-mouth marketing.  (I wrote an article for the spring 2016 CCID e-newsletter entitled Community College vs. Four-Year Enrollment Trends in Vietnam:  From Steady Decline to Sudden Rebound in which I summarized these trends.  This is a PDF download.  Scroll down to p. 11 to read the article.)

The bottom line is that Vietnamese CC enrollment remains strong for the usual reasons:  cost and convenience (2+2 model), plus the popular high school completion program in Washington state.  (The latter is the academic equivalent of killing two academic birds with one stone.)  Quite a few of these Vietnamese students are in the top three host states of CA, TX, and WA.