college for everyone

Experiment opens college to everyone in Mexico City
Presidential hopeful hails it as the future; critics call it populism running amok

— reported by the Houston Chronicle

There are no entrance exams. In fact, there are no exams at all, nor grades. Classroom attendance is optional, and tuition is free.

Welcome to the Autonomous University of Mexico City, or UACM. This radical experiment in higher education is how Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the presidential front-runner, sees the future of public universities in Mexico: accessible to all, regardless of age, income or academic achievement.

The former Mexico City mayor created the UACM by decree in April 2001, fulfilling a pledge to give disadvantaged residents the chance to attend college. If elected president in July for the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, he has vowed to re-create the experimental model in 30 new public universities across Mexico.

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It is a radical response to a well-known problem: the failure of public universities to meet growing demand for college education in Mexico. While record numbers of Mexican students are graduating from high school, only 20 percent attend college — a figure that is low even by Latin American standards. Meanwhile, enrollments in private universities have more than doubled from 15 percent in 1985 to the current 33 percent, according to Mexico’s Public Education Secretariat.

The result is a growing divide between those who can afford to pay for higher education and those who cannot.

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The UACM is the first public university created in the capital in three decades, and one of a tiny handful opened nationwide. It is also the first to cater to underprivileged residents. The vast majority of its 6,200 students come from poor, working-class families, according to administrators.

The university’s four campuses are in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, including one built inside a former women’s prison, in the working-class slums of Iztapalapa. And there are plans for a fifth campus; the goal is to bring enrollment up to 15,000 within the next four years.

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Students say they are too busy studying and holding down full-time jobs to worry about politics. The university offers morning and evening shifts to accommodate the majority of students who work.

Many are middle-aged women who were forced to drop out of school after they had children. Others, such as Leticia Arroyo, 31, attended public high schools that failed to prepare them for the competitive college admissions’ process.

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Author: Paloma Cruz

Find out more about Paloma Cruz through the About page. Connect with her on Twitter (www.twitter.com/palomacruz) and (Facebook).

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