Many Latin American countries took advantage of the economic boom that began at the beginning of this century to dramatically expand their institutions of higher education. In the past 17 years, this illuminating World Bank report reveals, some 2,300 new schools have opened, mostly in the private sector, offering 30,000 new programs. Across the region, average higher-education enrollment rates jumped from 21 percent in 2000 to 43 percent in 2013. Impressively, access for low- and middle-income students grew even more rapidly. Owing to the increased presence of lower-income students at colleges and universities, public spending on higher education is now skewed toward the disadvantaged—a reversal of previous distributions, which disproportionately benefited better-off families. Moreover, spending per student and student-faculty ratios in Latin American countries are now in line with those of the wealthy nations of Europe and North America. Not all is well, of course: drop-out rates remain too high; too many students attend low-quality, high-priced private universities; a deficit of graduates in science and engineering contributes to the region’s low rate of innovation; and academic research grants are often not subjected to the rigors of competitive selection. The authors’ proposed solutions include improving the dissemination of information on job-market prospects for graduates and reforming regulations and accreditation procedures.
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