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Monday, April 11, 2016

The Mysterious Decline of Filipino Students in the US

There is a noticeable decline in the number of Filipino students in US Colleges and Universities, based on data from the Open Doors Report. The number of Filipino students in US tertiary education peaked at 4,225 students in 2008 and is now at 3,026 students as of 2014-2015 school year.  This number is even lower than that of the year 2000, when 3,139 Filipino students were participating in US higher education.

Source: Open Doors Report, 2015

It is not clear why this is happening.  This decline has come at a time when the country has experienced very solid economic growth that is one of the best in Asia, under the leadership of both Presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III

The decline has also come about at a time when almost every ASEAN neighbor, with the exception of Thailand (which has been mired in political uncertainty), has been increasing the number of students it sends the US universities.

In absolute numbers, the Philippines ranks below Singapore, which has a population that is around 1/20th the size of the Philippines but above low-income or low population countries such as Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Vietnam, which is almost as big as the Philippines in terms of population, sends more than six times as many students to the US. 

In terms of percentage of tertiary students, the Philippines ranks second to the last in the ASEAN, above low-income Laos.  At 0.15% of its tertiary education student population, even the former hermit country Myanmar, ranks higher than the Philippines (which had 0.11% as of 2012).  Naturally, rich Singapore sends roughly 5% of its tertiary education students to study in the US higher education system.

Source:, 2015 Open Doors Report

Are Filipino Universities getting better? It is not clear that they are getting better.  From this infographic from CNN Philippines, the ranking of the top four universities in the Philippines have declined in recent years.

Could the decline be due to the increasing unaffordability of a college education in the US?  Since 1995, out-of state tuition and fees have climbed a staggering 226 percent for public universities. 

Based on data from the College Board, the annual undergraduate student budget now averages US $38,541 for a public four-year out-of-state on campus education as 2015.  For a private nonprofit four-year on campus education, it's even worse: US $47,831.

As a result, college has become unaffordable for many, including American workers.  These figures represent 126% and 160% of US worker median compensation of $30K as of 2014.  Most US students pay an average net price that is substantially lower than published college prices, as much as 28% lower.  The discount is primarily due to financial aid and grants available to US students.

Most of the time, foreign students don't qualify for financial aid and, in fact, subsidize low-income American students by paying full freight for their education. This education can cost around US $160K to $200K for a four-year college education.

So, by definition, foreign students come from relatively well-off families in their home countries in order to study abroad.  According to the 2015 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, around 530K Filipino adults had wealth greater than US $100K.  Of this, around 471K Filipino adults had wealth between US $100K to US $1M, and around 59K Filipino adults had wealth greater than US $1M.  

So as of 2015, Filipino students in the USA amounted to 0.55% of wealthy adults in the Philippines.  This ratio is similar to that of Indonesia and Laos, both at 0.55%. The outlier here is Vietnam, where the Vietnamese foreign student population in the USA amounts to a staggering 29.42% of the wealthy adult population in Vietnam.

Given all this information, it is still not clear why the absolute number of Filipino students in US Colleges and Universities is declining.  This phenomenon remains a mystery. 

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