In an ethnically themed shopping center called Plaza Mexico just south of Los Angeles, a public university from the Mexican state of Colima has planted its flag.
Alongside the shopping center’s stores and taquerias, the University of Colima offers mostly remedial education in reading, writing and math to about 100 Mexican immigrants. But a handful of students here are preparing to take their final exams for Mexican degrees, just one of several recent efforts by Mexican universities to branch into providing full-fledged university educations in the United States.
In fact, several Mexican universities are considering stepping in to offer accredited university classes in California and other states primarily to serve an immigrant population that lags far behind others in college education.
California, where public universities have been dealing with deep budget cuts and enrollment limits, probably will be the principal target of Mexican universities. There’s a huge market in the state, where Latinos account for more than 52 percent of public school students who’ll eventually be college-aged. A quarter of elementary-school students nationwide are Hispanic, the Pew Research Center reports.
Conversations between Mexican and U.S. universities have increased to the point that U.S. accreditors, knowing they’ll be asked to evaluate more Mexican schools soon, are working with their Mexican counterparts to find out more about higher education south of the border, said William Plater, who advises the Western Association of Schools and Colleges–the primary accreditor in the Western United States–on international affairs.
The days of Mexican campuses in the United States are just around the corner, some said.
“I don’t think it will be five, 10, 20 years” before Mexican universities build U.S. campuses, said Jonathan Brown, a higher-education consultant who’s working with Mexico’s Center for Higher and Technical Education as it decides whether to expand to Sacramento. “I think it will be sooner. In the next few years, we’re going to be 2 million degrees short of what California needs. Who wouldn’t want to go to a first-rate (Mexican) university close to home?”
Nearly 34 million people in the United States identify themselves as Mexican or of Mexican origin, but only 5 out of every 100 have university degrees, compared with about a third of immigrants in general, according to the Migration Policy Institute. About 35 percent of native-born citizens do.
Many U.S. universities, coping with competing demands for stretched resources, have been struggling to provide the kinds of support that could increase the number of Mexican-Americans who graduate. In a survey released in January by Hart Research Associates, 40 percent of Hispanics said the American higher education system was meeting their needs only somewhat well or not well at all. Many Hispanic students are the first in their families to go to college, come from high schools in low-income areas that don’t necessarily prepare them well for advanced course work and are disproportionately reluctant to borrow money to pay tuition.
Some Mexican universities and their advocates see an opening. Though most of the half-dozen or so schools with U.S. centers now offer little more than English, Spanish and cultural classes, they’re eyeing greater prominence north of the border and higher-level programs.The University of Guadalajara, for example, has set its sights on educating the millions of Californians who are from its home state of Jalisco. The university already offers a joint nursing degree in Los Angeles, but the partnership will end in October, and the school is studying whether to offer independent degrees in several subjects.