LYNWOOD, Calif -- 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 centers 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.
Its important for at least one university to pursue this, said Ana Uribe, a University of Colima professor who runs the Lynwood branch.
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. Theres a huge market in the state, where Latinos account for more than 52 percent of public school students wholl 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 theyll 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.
We think its in our best interest to learn more about quality assurance, he said.
The days of Mexican campuses in the United States are just around the corner, some said.
I dont think it will be five, 10, 20 years before Mexican universities build U.S. campuses, said Jonathan Brown, a higher-education consultant whos working with Mexicos 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, were going to be 2 million degrees short of what California needs. Who wouldnt 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.
In California, only 10 percent of Hispanic immigrants ages 25 and 26 have completed at least two-year degrees, compared with the state average of 36 percent, according to a report to be released soon by the institute. Latino youth both immigrants and those born in the United States have the lowest rate of college attainment in California, researchers found.
Even Hispanics who do enroll in American colleges and universities are 50 percent less likely than non-Hispanics are to earn bachelors degrees by age 24, Pew reports.
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 dont necessarily prepare them well for advanced course work and are disproportionately reluctant to borrow money to pay tuition.