This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.
Last Published: 4/5/2018


U.S. colleges and universities remain the preferred overseas destination for students from China. According to the 2017 Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange, the number of Chinese students studying in the U.S. increased in academic year 2016-2017 from 328,547 to 350,755, which constitutes a 6.8% increase from the previous academic year. For the 8th year in a row, China remains the leading place of origin for foreign students coming to the U.S. to study, comprising of 32.5 percent of all international students studying in the U.S. In 2016, Chinese students studying at U.S. universities and colleges contributed US$12.55 billion to the economy, effectively subsidizing the costs for domestic students in some cases.
While a slim majority of Chinese students studying in the U.S. are enrolled in graduate programs in the U.S., the number of undergraduate students increased 5.3% from 2015-2016 to 2016-17, according to data released by Open Doors. Open Doors also reported that in 2016-2017, 40.7% of Chinese students studying in the U.S. are at the undergraduate level, while 36.6% of the Chinese students studying in the U.S. are at the graduate level, 5.6% were other, and 17.1% were OPT (Optional Practical Training). The number of Chinese high school students studying in the U.S. is also on the rise, accounting for 42% of all international secondary students in the United States in 2016. 33,275 Chinese students studied in U.S. high schools, a 48% increase from 2013 to 2016.

Leading Sub-Sectors

Higher Education

Over the next four years, the number of Chinese students studying in the U.S. is projected to grow 11%. To realize these gains, universities and colleges must understand the educational needs and expectations of Chinese students.

STEM and Business/Management 

In 2015-16, STEM and Business/Management programs continue to be the two top areas of studies pursued by students coming from China.  42% of Chinese students study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). 28% of Chinese students study business/management, and 8 percent study social science disciplines. Among Chines students returning to China following graduation, about 30% expect to work in the financial sector.  U.S. higher education institutions lacking brand recognition in China, but have strong STEM and/or Business/Management programs, should highlight these programs as part of recruitment strategies for the Chinese market.

Fine and Applied Arts

A rising field of study for Chinese students is fine arts (e.g. film, dance, painting, and, and design), which is a marked departure from the perennially popular STEM and business/management majors. In 2016, Chinese student enrollment in fine and applied arts programs more than tripled, and experienced a much faster rate of growth when compared to the traditional leading fields of study such as engineering, business and management, and math and computer science.
Intense competition for the limited spots in China’s leading art and design programs fuel this international education trend. Nearly 900,000 Chinese students take the national college entrance exam for fine arts every year. However, acceptance rates at Chinese universities are very low. For example, in 2015, the Beijing Film Academy had an acceptance rate of 2% and the China Central Academy of Fine Arts had an acceptance rate of 10%. This leaves many students unable to pursue fine and applied art studies in China, and who often consider going abroad to study. 

Community Colleges

In addition to traditional four-year American colleges and universities, American community colleges also benefit from Chinese student enrollment. For middle class families in China with limited disposable income, U.S. community colleges offer the advantages of the American education system at a fraction of the price. Community colleges often serve as stepping stones for Chinese students to enroll in four-year universities upon completion of an associate’s degree. In 2015, there were 16,200 Chinese students enrolled in American community colleges.

K12 Education

According to the recent IIE report “Globally Mobile Youth,” international secondary student numbers more than tripled from 2004 to 2016, but the growth has slowed in recent years.  Most international secondary students in the U.S. ultimately seek to enroll in higher education. Of the 81,981 international students enrolled in U.S. high schools in 2016, most (72%) held F-1 visas, indicating an intent to earn a high school diploma. 

Chinese students make up 42% of all international secondary students in the United States and increased 48% from 2013 to 2016, outpacing the 12% growth seen overall from diploma-seeking and exchange students combined, growing from only 632 students in 2005 to 33,275 in 2016.  Many Chinese families with money choose to educate their children abroad to help the children escape the intense pressure and competition of Chinese compulsory education, to develop language skills, to build an international network, and to have their children grow up in an environment with cleaner air and a generally healthier standard of living.  Additionally, studying at American high schools increases the chances of acceptance to American universities, as many universities are increasingly recruiting Chinese students graduating from U.S. high schools. While most international high school students from Europe and Latin America travel to the U.S. for cultural exchange, Chinese students aim to be admitted to a U.S. college or university.  

Many universities face challenges determining the preparedness of Chinese students and differentiating them from one another based on Chinese high school grades, and most do not recognize performance in the standardized gaokao exam.  Furthermore, many Chinese students employ educational consultants or agents to access foreign universities. These agents may be unlicensed and provide such services as drafting admissions essays and forging documents. 
Attending a K-12 educational institution is a considerable investment for Chinese families.  Since those with F-1 student visas cannot spend more than one year at a U.S. public school, 95 percent of international high school students attend private schools.  With the costs of tuition, room and board, and other living expenses, attending private schools generally costs over $45,000 per academic year.

Education Technology

The Educational technology (EdTech) is a new and innovative sector with enormous potential.  In the past decade, there have been numerous enterprises and start-ups that have entered the EdTech industry.  The combined revenue of the top three companies in the education industry was $4.325 billion in 2014. These three companies that traditionally sold print products are now expanding their products and services to EdTech. 
Products and services offered by EdTech companies should not only involve students, but also involve teachers and parents.  The most popular products offered by EdTech companies are mobile device apps. According to a May 2013 poll of U.S. teachers conducted by Harries Interactive, 86% of teachers thought it “important” or “absolutely essential” to use EdTech in the classroom. 96% thought EdTech increases student engagement in learning and 92% wanted even more EdTech in classrooms.  The same poll also revealed unfulfilled demand: only 14% of teachers used digital curricula. EdTech was valued for its emphasis on self-learning rather than the traditional teacher-to-student experience.
With the proliferation of EdTech in both public and private schools, many institutions have adopted new policies to better accommodate new technologies. For example, many schools lacking funding for educational technology adopted a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. It is estimated that one out of every nine teachers in the U.S. allow students to bring their own devices to class for educational purposes.  Other services that fall under the EdTech umbrella are open source resources such as “open textbooks,” which are distributed under an open copyright license and can be freely used in print, e-book, or audio format.
The rapid expansion of EdTech allows for academic institutions to save money in the long run. Because of the technology gap, many institutions face steep initial upgrade costs to use EdTech effectively.  In the long run, however, institutions can recoup their investment in a relatively short amount of time thanks to the savings that EdTech and open source software are able to provide.
Special Education
On July 21, 2017, China’s Ministry of Education and the National Development and Reform Commission released "Phase II Special Education Upgrading Scheme (2017-2020)", a blueprint to further improve China’s special education system and to ensure that over 95% of Chinese schoolchildren with disabilities have access to nine-year compulsory education by 2020.  This second phase is a follow-up to the special education reforms that were implemented in 2014.  The Chinese Government is dedicated to improving access to special education.  However, there is a shortage of highly trained special education teachers in China and a dearth of special education degree programs in Chinese colleges and universities, especially in universities located in rural provinces.  This presents unique opportunities for U.S. colleges and universities with highly regarded special education programs.
Specialized Training
A skilled labor shortage has led the Chinese government to promote vocational training to improve the country’s workforce.  However, most teachers employed at Chinese vocational schools are unqualified. Moreover, many schools lack adequate facilities and curricula to effectively prepare students for the workforce.  Therefore, students seeking advanced technical knowledge can benefit from U.S. experience and resources not readily available in China.  While on-line distance education is still emerging sector in China, it represents a potential growth sector for those students who cannot afford to study overseas.

The United States has been the preferred overseas destination for international students from China since 2009-10. The value of a U.S. higher education degree is increasingly valued by Chinese consumers as China strives to transition into a globalized service-driven economy. About 70 to 80% of students studying abroad return to China after graduation, largely driven by the thriving domestic job market. Compared to other developing countries, Chinese families are less concerned about the costs of attending university, and are more concerned about the job prospects that a higher education degree provides. 
For many U.S. colleges and universities, the Chinese market continues to be an important focus of international student recruitment. Although competition is fierce in China’s top tier cities (e.g. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou), the overseas education market in second and third-tier cities remain largely untapped. U.S. institutions are encouraged to actively promote U.S. education in China, as competition for Chinese students from other English-speaking countries increases, and as the expansion of the domestic education market in China creates greater opportunities for students to pursue higher education without leaving China.


U.S. Commercial Service Contact Information

U.S. Embassy in Beijing
Ms. Maggie(Jing) Qiu, Commercial Specialist
(86 10) 8531-4157
U.S. Consulate in Shanghai
Ms. Lauren(Yuan) Liu, Senior Commercial Specialist
(86 21) 6279-8958

U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou
Ms. Veronica Liang, Commercial Specialist
(86 20) 020 3814 5630
U.S. Consulate in Chengdu
Ms. Jean (Mengyue) Xu, Commercial Specialist
(86 28) 8598-6720
U.S. Consulate in Shenyang
Ms. Andrea Shen, Commercial Specialist
(86 24) 2322-1198 Ext.8145

U.S. Consulate in Wuhan
Ms. Catherine Le, Commercial Specialist
(86 27) 8555-7791* 2811

Web Resources Prepared by our U.S. Embassies abroad. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the U.S. Commercial Service trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting


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U.S. Commercial Service. (2017). China City & Industry report: A Guide for U.S. Exporters. U.S. Department of Commerce .

Prepared by our U.S. Embassies abroad. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the U.S. Commercial Service trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting

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