More International Students Seeking U.S. High School Diplomas

California, New York and Texas Are the Top Host States

NEW YORK, August 8, 2017—A new study by the Institute of International Education (IIE) shows that the number of international students who come to the United States for high school has more than tripled between 2004 and 2016 to nearly 82,000. Among these secondary students, there is a shift towards enrolling in U.S. high schools directly to earn a diploma rather than entering short-term exchange programs.

Download the Report (PDF)

Watch the Facebook Live Q&A and discussion with the study’s author, Christine Farrugia, Ph.D., the Deputy Head of Research at the IIE Center for Academic Mobility Research and Impact.

While the total number of international high school students in the U.S. increased by 12 percent from 2013 to 2016, the annual growth has slowed to one percent in 2016 from eight percent in 2013. Chinese students make up almost half of all international secondary students in the United States and the growth rate is ticking up. From 2013 to 2016 the number of students from China increased by 48 percent.

The new study, titled Globally Mobile Youth: Trends in International Secondary Students in the United States, 2013-2016, was conducted by IIE to help educators and policymakers understand the implications that international secondary students have for U.S. higher education as well as for the increasing number of high schools that host them.

Compared to three years ago, 500 more U.S. high schools hosted international students, and may face increased competition to recruit them. While international students still make up just half a percent of the more than 15.5 million secondary students in the United States, they now attend schools in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

California, New York, and Texas are the top three states that host international students at both secondary and post-secondary levels. California, New York, Massachusetts, and Florida host the largest numbers of F-1 diploma-seeking secondary students. Michigan, Texas, California, and Oregon are the leading hosts of students on J-1 visas, who are primarily enrolled in exchange programs of a year or less.

“More international students are coming to the United States to pursue high school studies leading to a diploma, with the intent of preparing for U.S. higher education,” said Rajika Bhandari, head of Research, Policy and Practice at IIE. “This has significant implications not only for the high schools and communities that host them, but also for the colleges and universities to which they are applying.”

With over a million international students pursuing higher education in the United States and contributing more than $36 billion to the United States economy, U.S. colleges and universities have been increasingly interested in the pathways that students take to enroll in baccalaureate degree programs, including intensive English study programs, conditional admissions, and community colleges, with U.S. secondary schools now gaining in importance.

One key implication for higher education is that international students seeking diplomas at U.S. high schools come from a narrower range of geographic locations, so higher education institutions that desire a broad diversity among international applicants must continue to seek those applicants in other ways. About 69 percent of the J-1 visa students are from East Asia – primarily from China, as well as South Korea. There are much smaller numbers of diploma-seeking high school students from Latin America and Europe, and hardly any from Sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East. Their economic diversity is also limited, with most coming from families with the means to pay for their children’s education abroad, since scholarships are rarely available for international students at the secondary level.

The United States is the top host of international secondary school students, with nearly twice as many as the next leading country, Canada, and three times as many as the UK. Over the past several years Australia, Canada, and the U.K. have seen increased numbers of secondary students. The top three hosts grew at roughly similar rates from 2013-2016, with the United States increasing by 12 percent, Canada by 9 percent, and the UK by 7 percent. The fourth leading host, Australia, had the fastest rate of grow over the time period, increasing by 34 percent from 2013 to 2016, although from the smallest base of students among the Anglophone hosts.

IIE’s earlier groundbreaking report on this topic, issued in 2014, provided the first evidence of a strong increase in the number of international students who enroll in U.S. high schools for the purposes of preparing for enrollment in U.S. degree programs, rather than coming for short-term cultural exchanges of a year or less. This new report explores the changes in enrollment patterns since 2013, outlining the growth in the number of students as well as where they come from and where they study, and looks at the U.S. trends in a global context. 

About the Study

This analysis of international secondary students in the United States draws on multiple data sources, including the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) Common Core of Data and the Private School Survey. International students’ patterns of mobility to the United States at the secondary level are compared to postsecondary trends as reported in Open Doors®, and global comparison data are drawn from Australia Education International, the Canadian Bureau of International Education (CBIE), and the Independent Schools Council in the UK.

This report was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State. All data or statement of facts contained in this report belong to the reporting organization providing such data or statement, and the Institute of International Education (IIE) does not make any representations or warranties pertaining to the accuracy or completeness of any such data or statement of its adequacy for any purpose. The opinions, advice, or conclusions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect the official positions of IIE, the report’s funder, or the organizations and agencies reporting data.

About the Institute of International Education

The Institute of International Education (IIE) works with policymakers, educators and employers across the globe to prepare students and professionals for the global workforce and equip them to solve the increasingly complex challenges facing our interconnected world. An independent, not-for-profit organization founded in 1919, IIE has a network of 18 offices and affiliates worldwide, and over 1,300 member institutions. Since its founding, IIE has also established itself as a world leader in conducting longitudinal research on the global mobility trends of international students.


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