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U.S. Colleges Expand Connections in Latin America

by Jason Lane and Kevin Kinser

A couple of years ago, the WorldWise contributor Francisco Marmolejo pondered whether the United States was moving backward in its connections with Brazil. He was concerned that the U.S.-Brazil Higher Education Consortia Program run by the U.S. Education Department was being hurt by budget cuts. He argued that in a time when higher education was growing in Latin America, there needed to be more, not fewer, programs focused on developing relationships between the United States and Brazil.

He was right about the importance of such links. But things are not so dire as our colleague predicted.

Just a few days ago, President Obama announced a new United States-Mexico Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation, and Research. “This forum will build upon the many positive educational and research linkages that already exist through federal, state, and local governments, public and private academic institutions, civil society, and the private sector,” a press release notes. “It will bring together government agency counterparts to deepen cooperation on higher education, innovation, and research. It will also draw on the expertise of the higher-education community in both countries.”

So, what are these existing linkages?

A recent book published by the Institute of International Education, Latin America’s New Knowledge Economy: Higher Education, Government, and International Collaboration, highlights many of these relationships.

While the U.S. government did stop financing the U.S.-Brazil Higher Education Consortia Program, it sustained connections with Latin America in other ways. There are several agreements with the United States’ southern neighbors, including one dating back to 1972 with Argentina to support the development of science and technology. More recently, in 2011, the National Science Foundation entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education. This update of a 1984 agreement supports collaboration between researchers in both nations. Also, in 2011 the United States and Chile developed a partnership on English-language programs, Fulbright exchanges, and centers to provide information to students wanting to study in the United States, among other work.

More broadly, to increase the flow of students between the United States and its Latin American neighbors, the U.S. Department of State created 100,000 Strong in the Americas. The goal is to increase the number of student exchanges between Latin America and the United States to 100,000 in each direction. And Brazil has its own program, Science Without Borders, which aims to provide 75,000 scholarships for Brazilian students to study in a foreign country, including the United States. As of the fall of 2012, this program had placed nearly 2,000 undergraduate students from Brazil at 238 institutions in the United States.

Other countries have developed efforts to support specific areas of research or teaching. Starting in 1963, Chile developed a partnership with the University of California system focusing on technical cooperation in the areas of agriculture, education, water-resource management, and highway transportation. In 2008, a series of new agreements were signed establishing the Chile-California Partnership for the 21st Century. The Chile-California Program on Human Capital Development was created to foster greater educational opportunities for Chilean students, including providing access to graduate programs in the California system.

University of Buenos Aires has an exchange program with the University of Pennsylvania.

And connections are driven by more than government initiatives. Much of the cross-border engagement happens at the institutional level. For example, the University of Pennsylvania has exchange agreements with the University of Torcuao Di Tella, the University of Salvador, and the University of Buenos Aires. Three community colleges (Houston, Jackson, and Red Rocks) are working with the National Industrial Apprenticeship Service of Brazil and the Social Service Industry of Brazil to develop work-force training opportunities for students in both countries.

Beyond partnerships, institutions have also developed foreign outposts. At least five universities in the United States now operate branch campuses in Latin America (Aliant University in Mexico, Ave Maria University in Nicaragua; Broward College in Ecuador; Endicott College in Mexico; and Florida State University in Panama). We’ve also seen U.S.-based education conglomerates like the Apollo Group (which owns University of Phoenix) and Laureate International Universities purchasing and operating campuses throughout Latin America. And, like the exchange programs, the flow is not in one direction. Jose Maria Vargas University from Venezuela has a campus in the United States.

Mr. Marmolejo was right to suggest that ties between higher-education institutions in the United States and Latin America should be strengthened. The new book suggests that this is now a strategic priority for the United States, with mutually beneficial programs increasingly part of the hemispheric higher education environment.