U.S. Trends in Indonesian Student Enrollment


Three years ago I had the opportunity to submit an article titled “Indonesian Students in the Asian American Scene” for publication in the book Nuansa East Coast: Sumbangan Pemikiran dan Catatan Kampus Cendekiawan Indonesia di Pantai Timur AS. Only a limited number of copies were ever printed, so its contents and the ideas of the Indonesianists who contributed to the publication never reached a wide audience.

While this may seem disappointing, I was in fact relieved that my writing was never published because of more recent developments that may change the outlook on future enrollment trends.

During the 2011–12 academic year, 7,131 Indonesian nationals were registered with U.S. higher education institutions, growing at a rate of 2.7 percent from the previous year. However, this number is abysmally low compared to the peak of 13,282 in 1997–98. The population has only increased three times in the 14 years since that peak including the most recent one.

The first students from Indonesia arrived in 1953 through an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. International Cooperation Administration, which would later come to be known as the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. The program brought medical students from the University of Indonesia to study at the University of California at Berkeley.

It has been suggested that the financial crisis that hit Indonesia and the rest of East Asia in 1997 resulted in the withdrawal of a majority of students, but data provided by the Institute of International Education indicated that this was not the case. Of the institutions that enrolled Indonesian students, 55.2 percent reported no change or an increase in enrollment between the fall 1997 and spring 1998 semesters.

The largest change actually occurred 2002–05 when Indonesian enrollment in American institutions dropped by one-third.

When U.S. President Barack Obama visited Indonesia in November 2010, the U.S. launched a five-year, $165 million investment in expanding higher education collaboration as part of a Comprehensive Partnership with Indonesia. This includes USAID grants for up to 25 university partnerships and a new Fulbright scholarship program. Disadvantaged Indonesians will have the opportunity to learn English, and Americans will have the opportunity to learn Indonesian in a local setting.

Earlier that year in February, then-U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Cameron Hume stated that the goal of his embassy in Jakarta is to double Indonesian enrollment in the U.S. At the current 2.7-percent growth rate, this will not be an easy task. However, this increase is the first indicator that the 2010 Comprehensive Partnership may be a positive development for future enrollment.

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Richardson Kilis is an alumnus of Cornell University with a degree in Chemical Engineering and an International Relations minor. As former President of the Cornell Indonesian Association (CIA), he helped realize a partnership with the Yale Indonesia Forum (YIF) to hold bilingual, biannual conferences on Indonesian studies which began on the 80th anniversary of the Indonesia's Second Youth Congress. Richardson has been a presenter at the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) and the Midwest Asian American Student Union (MAASU).


  1. Hi Richard,

    I am very surprised when you wrote: “The largest change actually occurred 2002–05 when Indonesian enrollment in American institutions dropped by one-third.” May I know what happened during that period of time, which affected the enrolment?

    • Thanks for your question, Kevin. It is difficult to pinpoint a single factor responsible for the drop, but there have been a few anecdotal theories.

      The first is that Immediately following the September 11 attacks, the U.S. State Department slowed the visa process for many Arab and Muslim nations, one of which was Indonesia. This could have created a disincentive for those who were considering studying in the United States.

      Allan Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education (IIE), posed an alternative theory when he took a delegation to Indonesia in 2009: “Indonesians don’t like to sit for [TOEFL] exams, and when the Australian education abroad unit said, ‘You could come to Australia and take the test when you get there,’ waves of Indonesians went to Australia.”

  2. hi Richard

    I am from Indonesia and I am student in Chemical Engineering too, I want ask you about scholarship in France but have a program master of chemical engneering.. Do you know it?


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