The mechanism of drain current collapse in AlGaN/GaN high electron mobility transistors (HEMTs) was investigated. Current collapse was clearly observed for TiO2 passivated HEMTs. However, no evidence of current collapse was apparent for SiNx passivated HEMTs. This suggests that AlGaN surface traps play a major role in current collapse. The experimental results were compared with numerical device simulation results. The device simulations were performed taking into account hot electron generation and deep traps at the AlGaN surface. The simulated drain current transients were consistent with the degradation and recovery behavior of the experimental results. These results indicate that current collapse is caused by the trapping of hot electrons in deep levels at the AlGaN surface.