MEXICO CITY – The rate of students in Latin America and the Caribbean who graduate from higher education programs more than doubled – from 21 percent to 43 percent – between 2000-2013, but challenges persist, including the high dropout rate and the connections to the labor market, a World Bank Group report noted.
In the report released Wednesday in Mexico City and entitled “At a Crossroads: Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean” the World Bank said that the increase in students, who currently number 20 million in the region, has benefited Latin America and the Caribbean, especially in terms of young people coming from lower and medium socioeconomic environments.
However, unequal access is still a problem, given that – among other things – lower-income students generally have had lower quality education, Maria Marta Ferreyra, a World Bank economist and head of the team that prepared the report, told EFE in an interview.
Ferreyra said that although higher education has the “potential to increase productivity and equality in societies,” this “cannot by itself resolve all the problems” because the institutions can only increase the dissemination of knowledge “insofar as the students (who attend higher education programs) are academically well prepared.”
The increase in numbers of students graduating from such programs has come about due to the greater number of those institutions and study programs, or the expansion of existing ones.
The report emphasizes that, on average, about half the population of 25-29-year-olds who begin a higher education program do not finish their studies because they simply stay in school rather than graduating or because they drop out.
Mexico and Peru are the only two countries in the region where the graduation rate is closer to that in the US: about 65 percent.
Therefore, Ferreyra said, students need to be channeled into programs where they have “chances for success” and toward study programs and institutions that “really add value.”
“One of the main challenges facing the universities is connecting themselves better to the labor market, (along with) understanding what the market needs (and) reviewing the supply of careers, the duration, content and relevance,” the Argentine economist said.
The less prepared students who join higher education programs ultimately make lower incomes, “pose very serious challenges to the system” and “need to select their program of study very carefully,” she said.