Asian cultural activities, such as the South Asian dance tradition of Bhangra have flourished at US universities thanks to the increasing amounts of Asian students on college campuses. Image: Leroy Council via Wikimedia Commons.

Latest Education Data Reveals Steady Increase in Asian Students in America


Every year, the Institute of International Education (IIE) publishes a report of American students studying abroad and international students studying in the United States. The data for the 2014-15 academic year, studied in tandem with data from recent years, revealed interesting trends about the growth of Asian students in the United States. Today, they number 630,000, more than double the level in the 2000-01 academic year and up more than 10% from the 2013-14 academic year alone.

In the 2014-15 academic year, higher education institutions in the US hosted nearly one million students from all over the world, representing fewer than five percent of all students enrolled in undergraduate-level study or above. The Asia-Pacific region, encompassing forty countries in East, South, and Southeast Asia as well as the Pacific, was responsible for sending 65% of all international students to the United States, by far the largest place of origin.

Evolution of Asian Students in the US by Academic YearEvolution of Asian Students in the US by Academic Year

The leading nation of origin globally is China, which sends over 30% of all international students in the United States. It has been the largest source of international students in the US since 2010, when it surpassed India for the first time since the 2000-01 academic year. India, however, remains the largest South Asian country of origin for international students in the US and second-largest globally, while Vietnam tops the list in Southeast Asia. Vietnam ranks ninth globally, but is expected to overtake Japan as early as next year. The amount of students from Taiwan is also growing, hitting a record high in 2015.

Although Asia has consistently ranked as the top region of origin of international students in the US in the past decade in absolute terms, the 10% growth of Asian students from 2013-14 to 2014-15 was consistent with the pace of growth of all international students in America between both academic years. The growth in numbers of Asian students in America was also outpaced by South America, where the number of students increased 30% from 2013-14, and the Middle East, where the amount of students increased 11%. Looking at Asia’s regional breakdown, however, most of the growth in Asian students in America was propelled by South and Central Asia, especially India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The amount of students from South and Central Asia increased nearly 25%, double the combined rate of East and Southeast Asia.

Asian Students by Region, Relative to All International Students in the USAsian Students by Region, Relative to All International Students in the US

The growing number of international students on American university campuses has furthered awareness and understanding of their home cultures within the US. In Alabama, Auburn University held a “Year of India” over the 2015-16 academic year, and organized as part of the program a cricket match and a Bollywood night, among other events. Other universities have started organizing annual South Asian dance competitions: George Washington University hosted its 23rd annual Bhangra Blowout this year, and in 2014 Georgetown University’s annual South Asian dance showcase, Rangila, hosted its 20th annual show at the Kennedy Center, featuring more than 500 students. The University of Illinois began offering Chinese-language commentary for football games, among other innovations to help international students fully participate in campus life.

For more information about Asian students' fields of study upon arrival at US higher education institutions, check out the second part of this Asia Matters for America series on Asian students in America here.

Andrea Moneton is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.