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.


Reflections on Five (5) Years of Capstone Vietnam, Educational Consulting in Vietnam & Overseas Study Trends: Part II

This is the English version of part II of a two-part interview series with me that recently appeared in the Vietnamese media.  Follow this link to read part I.

Tiến sỹ Mark_ A_ Ashwill(1)

Do you have any advice to guide parents and students – their children – who want to study abroad?

Knowing that most parents and students seek the assistance of an education agent rather than applying directly to a foreign institution, my advice in this crucial area is to choose carefully when looking for a suitable educational consulting company to work with. Many companies have no qualms about cheating their clients in their pursuit of short-term profit. Be sure to ask a lot of questions and use your personal network to find out as much as you can about a prospective company. Most importantly, the company should be working on your behalf and on behalf of your son or daughter not the institutions that pay commissions. The company you choose should provide accurate information and find the best possible matches for your child.

There is an encouraging trend of rising consumer expectations in Vietnam.  More and more parents and students are becoming educated consumers.  This means that there is both official (i.e., government) and grassroots (i.e., consumer) pressure for companies to become better than they are.  Competition and effective official oversight will take care of the rest.

My other piece of advice is to combine educational advising with career counseling. To parents – What is your child good at, where do his talents lie, what is her realized or untapped potential? To young people – What do you enjoy (interests), what are you good at (abilities), what do you value/find rewarding, what are your goals? Then you need to think about where you plan to enter the world of work and what kinds of employment opportunities might be available for someone with your qualities, qualifications and background.

As you embark upon this exciting process, there are two relevant quotes to keep in mind, one from an American author, poet, philosopher, and naturalist from the 19th century and the other from an American entrepreneur, marketer, and inventor, co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple, Inc., who lived in the late 20th century. Both believed in the power of dreams and the vital importance of self-actualization.

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake. Henry David Thoreau

The only way to do great work is to love what you do. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs also had these words of encouragement – in his June 2005 Commencement address at Stanford University – to young people, or anyone for that matter, who decides to take the “road not taken,” in the words of the American poet, Robert Frost.

You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever–because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.

I have one concern and some final advice. 37.5% of all Vietnamese students in the U.S. are studying Business/Management, by far the highest percentage of any place of origin. (Indonesia is a distant 2nd at 29.5%.) Why so many? My guess is that students and/or their parents believe that you have to study business in order to do business. In fact, most employers recognize and value the creative, communicative and problem-solving abilities associated with liberal arts majors as the most valuable qualities of new staff.


In a 2013 essay entitled Business and the Liberal Arts Edgar M. Bronfman, who was chief executive officer of the Seagram Company Ltd., advised young people to get a liberal arts degree, emphasizing the value of curiosity and openness to new ways of thinking, and describing it as “the most important factor in forming individuals into interesting and interested people who can determine their own paths through the future.”

For all of the decisions young business leaders will be asked to make based on facts and figures, needs and wants, numbers and speculation, all of those choices will require one common skill: how to evaluate raw information, be it from people or a spreadsheet, and make reasoned and critical decisions. The ability to think clearly and critically — to understand what people mean rather than what they say — cannot be monetized, and in life should not be undervalued. In all the people who have worked for me over the years the ones who stood out the most were the people who were able to see beyond the facts and figures before them and understand what they mean in a larger context.

A famous and exceptional example of someone in living and working in Vietnam who pursued this path is Henry (Hoang) Nguyen, who currently serves as the Managing General Partner of IDG Ventures Vietnam. Henry graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, which he attended as a Harvard National Scholar, in 1995 with a BA in Classics. He then earned his MD and MBA from Northwestern University Medical School and the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago. His academic journey took him from studying the language, literature, history, archaeology, and other dimensions of the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome to medicine to business, a true Renaissance man.

While I am not famous, I am also an example of someone with a liberal arts background at the undergraduate and graduate (MA/Ph.D.) levels, including political science, German history, intercultural communication, comparative literature, philosophy, economics, education, etc., who has been an educational entrepreneur for most of my career.

I know of many young Vietnamese who majored in the liberal arts (single or double-major, with or without business courses) and who have returned to Vietnam to pursue successful careers in the private sector either as owners or employees. Through their work they have made Vietnam a better place. Their broad education is one of their greatest strengths.

What are Capstone Vietnam’s plans for 2015 and beyond? What are your wishes for young Vietnamese as they relate to education and career opportunities now and in the future?

Our plans are to continue building capacity to meet the demand for existing and new services. While we’re aware of and have experienced the human resource challenges that are a stark reality for every employer in Vietnam, we are pleased with our team in both offices. Our excellent staff are dedicated, hardworking and knowledgeable. We have a solid foundation upon which to build.

These are our core beliefs and goals that will sustain us in the years to come in a very competitive environment. This is who we are and this is what we want for young people and all of Vietnam.

  • Innovation over imitation, substance over image, veracity over veneer.
  • Trust, respect, integrity, quality and service; these are actions not just words, words to live by.
  • Success measured not by short-term profit but by long-term customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Success measured by making an impact. By giving back. By leaving a legacy. By taking Vietnam to the next level.
  • Do well and do good.
  • Stay focused and keep your eyes on the prize!

Vietnam’s greatest resource is its people – hardworking, motivated, always on the move and in search of ways to enrich their lives and enhance their marketability through education and training. Every individual has enormous reserves of untapped potential and undiscovered talents. Our goal at Capstone Vietnam is to help our clients “reach new heights,” tap that potential, reveal those hidden talents and make a meaningful and lasting difference in the lives of individuals, organizations and society.

My heartfelt wish for young Vietnamese is that they study what they like and what they’re good at, all the while keeping a realistic eye on an ever-changing job market, that they live “in their dreams awake”, do the work that they love and make it great. And, finally, that they keep in mind and take to heart this quote from Randy Pausch (1960-2008), an American professor of computer science, human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: “The key question to keep asking is, ‘Are you spending your time on the right things?’ Because time is all you have.”

Dr. Mark A. Ashwill is the Managing Director of Capstone Vietnam. From 2005 to 2009, he served as country director of the Institute of International Education in Vietnam. Prior to moving to Vietnam, Dr. Ashwill was director of the World Languages Institute, adjunct lecturer and Fulbright program adviser at the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY/Buffalo). In the mid-1990s, he was a primary researcher for the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) Case Study Project in Germany, Japan and the U.S., a Research Associate at the University of Michigan’s Center for Human Growth and Development (CHGD) and a visiting scholar at the University of Frankfurt and Northwestern University. In 2003, Dr. Ashwill became the first U.S. American to be awarded a Fulbright Senior Specialist Grant to Vietnam.

A 2011 Hobsons consultant’s report noted that Dr. Ashwill’s work and that of former U.S. Ambassador, Michael Michalak, “helped to promote the United States as a destination for Vietnamese students, and strengthened the ties between the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) and U.S. universities.” In June 2012, Jeff Browne wrote in his blog Vietnomics that “Much of the credit for the strengthening U.S.-Vietnam higher education link goes to Hanoi-based educator, Mark Ashwill, director of Capstone Vietnam and key adviser to student-run nonprofit VietAbroader, both of which help Vietnamese students navigate the American education culture.”

Reflections on Five (5) Years of Capstone Vietnam, Educational Consulting in Vietnam & Overseas Study Trends: Part I

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.

Tiến sỹ Mark_ A_ Ashwill(1)

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.

HCMC vols - fall 2014 HE fair

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?”

Capstone Vietnam _1

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.



Creating and Maintaining Productive and Effective Partnerships

ccid logo

This was my first presentation in absentia.  I was scheduled to present at the 2014 CCID Conference in late February about Creating and Maintaining Productive and Effective Partnerships for community colleges, along with my distinguished colleagues, but wasn’t able to attend.  Below is the abstract and list of presenters.  Follow this link to download a PDF version (2.4MB) of the PowerPoint presentation.  Thanks to my friend and colleague, Judy Irwin, for representing me.



Partnering with reputable international educational consulting companies is an effective way to boost international recruitment, develop new partnerships (faculty/student exchange, in-country training, articulation programs), and safeguard the interests of higher education institutions and their international students.  This session describes different ways of screening and evaluating prospective partners.  Panelists include representatives from an organization promoting professional recruitment standards and ethical principles; a community college working with agents and a leader in best practices; and a full-service educational consulting company working with both institutional ( U.S. colleges and universities) and individual clients (students and parents).


Judy Irwin, AIRC (American International Recruitment Council), Session Chair
Ross Jennings, Green River Community College
Mark Ashwill, Capstone Vietnam