KSU hopes to capitalize on Vietnam

By Bryan Richardson

This week’s announcement that K-State will have a recruiting representative in Vietnam continues its internationalization process, yet puts it in new territory as well.

It’s the third international office opened by K-State, which has been represented in China since 2006 and in India since 2008. But this time, rather than using people who speak only for K-State, the university has hired Capstone Vietnam, a company that offers recruiting and networking help to 33 higher education institutions.

“(The model’s) one that has started up in the past three or four year, at least for American universities,” said Jim Lewis, K-State director of international admissions and recruiting.

K-State’s China office is handled exclusively by the university. The India office is operated by another company, but K-State is its only university client. The company mostly deals with wheat-related matters and is managed by Raj Kapoor, who has a history of working with Kansas State. Neither Mark Ashwill, Capstone’s managing director, nor the company itself have a previous relationship with K-State.

Marcelo Sabates, K-State interim associate provost for international programs, said opening an office in Vietnam is advantageous to K-State.

“Vietnam has a combination of factors ranging from high quality students to a growing middle class to the use of the English language rocketing in the country,” he said.

Lewis said he isn’t worried about working through a company that deals with other community colleges and universities. For one, Lewis said Capstone has hired a representative who will only work for K-State.

“If you are careful and pick good people to begin with and you communicate well, then you don’t have problems,” he said. Lewis said thousands of emails are distributed between him in Manhattan and the offices in China and India, including monthly reports.

Lewis also visits those countries, and the offices’ directors return the favor by coming to Manhattan. “Technology has made the job of good communication much easier,” he said. “You still have to go visit people, though.”

Despite the different setups, Lewis said the jobs of all of the offices are the same — providing free information to students and parents, maintaining a website, producing brochures in the language and going to recruiting fairs.

The goal of having these offices is to increase the number of undergraduates coming from those countries. Since the India office opened, undergraduates from India have grown from seven in fall 2008 to 20 in fall 2011. The number of undergraduates from China has increased from 24 in fall 2006 to 721 in fall 2011.

During the fall, K-State enrolled 12 students from Vietnam, ten of them graduate students and two undergraduates. Sabates said the university is working on an enrollment growth projection, but is not ready to say anything publicly yet. Just purely on starting numbers when the offices opened, Vietnam is much closer to India than China.

One difference between the countries could be the majors that the students choose. Sabates said Vietnam is different from China and India, whose students mostly come to K-State for business and engineering, respectively.

“With Vietnam, it’s more diverse than that,” he said. “Our prediction is that Vietnam undergraduates would have enrollment patterns more similar to domestic students.”

Lewis agreed that there are differences, adding each country has different needs or quirks that need to be addressed. “Each country has different requirements,” he said. “I feel we’ve gotten the best people in each of the countries to meet those different requirements.”

At this point, most students who come to the U.S. for school from Vietnam attend a community college. Lewis said that’s due to the economic considerations by Vietnamese families, which is why he considers it a plus to work with Capstone.

“I see it as a very good situation that some of his representatives will be community colleges because community colleges can be a direct feeder to K-State,” Lewis said.

He spoke about a hypothetical situation of parents wanting to get information about a four-year university once their child gets an associate’s degree. Lewis said K-State being just an office space away from that conservation will help the university.

Capstone mostly represents community colleges, although institutions such as the University of Chicago, Montana State University and California State University Northridge are also clients.

Lewis said there are thousands of universities an international student can choose from. He said it’s important to have someone in person to provide information about the search.

As the university pushes for more international students, there could be concerns about domestic students being crowded out. Sabates said that shouldn’t be an issue.

“Our perspective in terms of domestic, particular in-state, students is that we’ll have very, very moderate growth in the next few years,” he said. “The same goes for international students.”

Sabates attributed the modest projection to other universities’ growing presence in China, which has represented much of the large increase.

“We were the first,” he said. “We now have a lot of competition in China. We’re not expecting to grow as much in the areas that we’ve had a lot of growth the last four to five years.”

Still, K-State has expectations of success in Vietnam. Lewis said although the country has typically sent its students to community colleges first, it is starting to shift toward four-year institutions.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to capitalize on the strong economic growth in Vietnam,” Lewis said. “With strong economic growth, there’s usually growth of the middle class.”

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