Despite growing numbers in registration and attendance to higher education institutions, Latin American education lags behind
Since the 2000s, Latin American education has improved greatly. According to a recent study published by the World Bank, there are almost 2,300 new higher educations institutions and the enrollment rate –between 18 and 24 year olds– has increased from 21% to an encouraging 43%. Those are numbers to be proud of.
Another fact to take into account is the increase in socioeconomic inclusion: low-income students have increased from 16% to 23%, says the data collected by the World Bank.
However, Latin America is still far from the ideal in higher education. As well as an increase in enrollment, the dropout rate has also elevated. The World Bank, as well as analysts from The Economist, argues that the conditions of Latin American higher education are not entirely favorable for students –mainly, low-income students–. The duration of a degree –between four and five years– is discouraging, taking into account the investment that each student must do.
Aside from the duration, which itself can’t be sufficient to dropout, there are the high costs of a private school and the financial return perceived by students. There’s no doubt that in Latin American schools –not including public schools– the correlation between quality and high cost tuitions is persistent; it doesn’t always have the results that students expect.
Usually, it is difficult to equate the costs of a complete undergraduate program and the salary that the student will receive in the labor market post-graduation. Being realistic, during a personal or family financial crisis, it seems easier to dropout and get a job –which is easier and faster to get–.
Furthermore, the higher education in Latin America –despite the high costs for students– still lags far behind in comparison to universities in the United States and Europe. While the two most important universities in Colombia (Universidad Nacional and Universidad de los Andes) have climbed up in the global rankings, they still aren’t among the top 250 universities in the world. According to the ranking made by QS Quacquarelli Symonds, Universidad Nacional is ranked as 254 and Los Andes as 256. Aside from those two, there are only 11 Latin American higher education institutions among the top 400.
Analysts have suggested that Latin America, although it has done a good job on increasing enrollment, needs to improve its funding options –through government programs– and the overall quality of the institutions. Peru, Chile, Colombia and Brazil have implemented strategies that are increasing the effectiveness of public resources.
There’s still the responsibility to take a closer look at standards, teacher’s qualifications and, even more, what programs should institutions offer to increase the investment return of each student. Latin American institutions seem to be unaware of the needs of the labor market, which is hurting not only the students but the economy as a whole.
LatinAmerican Post | Juan Sebastián Torres
Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto