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Universities in US and Chile see dramatic spike in enrollment

University of Chile

One of the most marked success stories in education has been in Chile, where university enrollment has been on a historic climb since 2005. 

Since the economic meltdown of 2008, countries around the world continue to enact harsh austerity measures, many of which are affecting university funding. In the US, however, enrollment in accredited institutions has largely gone unaffected. From 1990 to 2000, enrollment in the US increased by 11 percent, but between 2000 and 2010, those numbers actually jumped 37 percent, from 15.3 million to 21 million.

Outside of the US, university growth has also been on the rise. In Brazil, for instance, where economic progress has grown steadily, college enrollment has seen major spike. Chile has been a poster child for education in Latin American, showing a meteoric rise in university enrollment since 2005. 

Chile on the rise

Recent studies have attributed much of Chile’s education growth to financial aid sponsored by the Chilean government, which has increased the probability of students going to college by over 30 percent. In Chile, students from the lowest income bracket are eligible for significant financial aid from the Ministry of Education. The aid provides two notable functions for students: increasing the enrollment rate, and improving retention rates. 

Unlike in most developed nations, the educational system in Chile today is primarily market based. Over 90 percent of students attend voucher schools and over 50 percent of higher education students pursue degrees in private institutions. After the enactment of an educational reform in 1981, private organizations were granted the ability to create schools and receive vouchers, and higher education opened up to a huge number of private institutions.

Today, nearly 30 percent of Chilean students between the ages of 18 and 24 receive some form of higher education.

From 2005 to 2010, education in Chile rose dramatically yet again, with enrollment rates spiking 51 percent from 646,000 to 973,000 students. Throughout the expansion, the nation was able to improve the quality and equity of education, evidenced through an increase in production of human capital through student enrollment in Ph.D. programs. Enrollment in doctoral programs has jumped a full 74 percent.

The nation’s focus on education also led to the passing of the Quality Assurance Law in 2006, which consolidated a quality assurance system, effectively raising the number of accredited tertiary educational institutions from 41 in 2005 to 87 in 2010.

Government lends a hand

Much of the success has been attributed to stronger accountability in terms of performance, mostly facilitated by focused government programs. A small grants program has allowed schools to stimulate innovation, advance human capital and increase student learning. Performance agreements among four universities have provided each university with an incentive to implement action plans, such as financing based on student performance.

Policy formulation through transparency and the establishment of a comprehensive information system has also proved valuable, along with seven in-depth sector studies to inform and guide policy.

Researchers from the Christian Ministry of Education at the University of Chile assert the increase in scholarships and available state-managed credit programs are also likely explanations.

The marked rise in higher education in countries throughout the Americas, and particularly Chile, offers a bold illustration of how effective large-scale government funding programs can be. University of Chile researchers even claim that, despite the high effectiveness of education funding programs in Chile, the demand for aid has not decreased, suggesting that there is still large number of students who are not meeting the financial aid needs required to pursue their higher education.

Considering the long history of research documenting a strong correlation between education and economic strength within a country, large-scale funding programs aimed at increasing the scope and effectiveness of higher education an excellent investment for any country looking to compete in the global marketplace.

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