What The U.S. Can Learn From Free College In Chile

Pilar Vega Martinez is using gratuidad to attend the University of Chile to become a nurse. Elissa Nadworny/NPR

Chile’s educational system has significant parallels with that of the U.S.: a robust sector of private colleges alongside public universities; high college tuition; and, before gratuidad, significant student loan debt.

And it’s a popular idea in the U.S., too: Seventy-one percent of Americans support free tuition at public universities or colleges for students who are academically qualified, according to a survey by PSB Research for the Campaign for Free College Tuition.

A driving force behind the move to gratuidad in Chile was deep socioeconomic divisions in society, a remnant of Chile’s authoritarian government that ruled the country from 1973 to 1990.

As in the U.S., the movement rose above financial concerns about paying for college to a broader, philosophical principle: Higher education is a right.

In Chile, the biggest cost-saving measure was reducing the number of students who qualified. College would not be free for everyone but for the poorest Chileans — only those whose families were in the bottom half of the income range.

Conservatives, who now hold a majority in government, would prefer to put more money into primary and secondary education, where inequalities grow.

“If you want to have more vulnerable students in good universities and good professional institutes you have to level up the quality of education before they come.”

“The law establishes that higher education is right, that should be within reach of all people, in accord with their abilities and merits.”

Article URL : https://www.npr.org/2019/11/25/776017867/what-the-u-s-can-learn-from-free-college-in-chile

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