Posted on October 26, 2020

Estimating the Number of Chinese STEM Students in the United States

Jacob Feldgoise and Remco Zwetsloot, Center for Security and Emergency Technology, October 2020

In recent years, concern has grown about the risks of Chinese nationals studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at U.S. universities. This data brief estimates the number of Chinese students in the United States in detail, according to their fields of study and degree level. Among its findings: Chinese nationals comprise 16 percent of all graduate STEM students and 2 percent of undergraduate STEM students, lower proportions than were previously suggested in U.S. government reports.

Executive Summary

This paper assesses how many Chinese students are enrolled in U.S. universities across field, degree level, and time. {snip}


{snip} Our findings differ from widely-cited government estimates. Whereas those estimates suggested that 25 percent of U.S. STEM graduate students and 15 percent of STEM undergraduates are Chinese, we conclude with high confidence that the numbers are 16 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

{snip} Across those STEM fields, there are around 46,000 Chinese undergraduates, an estimated 40,000 master’s students, and an estimated 36,000 Ph.D. students. At the undergraduate level, around one-third of all Chinese students at U.S. universities are in STEM fields, compared to more than half at the graduate level.

{snip} At the undergraduate level, we find that Chinese students comprise 31 percent of international students and 2 percent of all students at U.S. universities in STEM fields. At the graduate level, we find that Chinese students comprise 37 percent of international students and 16 percent of all U.S. students in STEM fields.