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Study shows uptick in local college grads, despite economic challenges for students

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A study by nonprofit Excelencia in Education on university education in Puerto Rico revealed that, in the last 20 years, there has been a 40% increase in the total number of university degrees awarded, from 31,469 to 44,137, despite the fact that students do not have financial aid from scholarships fit for the rising cost of tuition.

The “Higher Education in Puerto Rico: Conditions and Context Influencing Institutional Resilience” study also found that retention rates in Puerto Rico have increased over the past 15 years and, despite declines in enrollment, are higher than the retention rate for Latino students in the US mainland.

Excelencia in Education, an organization in Washington that supports the education of Latino students in the United States, had the collaboration of the Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities on the research.

“I know and appreciate Excelencia’s work from its origins. The subject of the academic success of Hispanic students, which is the focus of its project, has always included Puerto Rico. This timely publication will be of great use to both the university communities and the accrediting agencies,” said Margarita Benítez, director of the Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities.

Excelencia in Education concluded that the broad radiography of the estimated 80 public and private universities of Puerto Rico can be instructive for the stateside college institutions.

Among other points, the research highlights the resilience of college institutions on the Island, after facing hurricanes, earthquakes and economic crises.

“Puerto Rico has experienced a series of natural, economic, demographic, and governance challenges in recent years that have impacted the daily lives of students, communities, and institutions of higher education,” said Deborah Santiago, CEO of Excelencia in Education and the principal researcher of this study.

“And yet some institutions and community leaders have addressed these challenges in innovative and proactive ways. Resilience has been an important characteristic for both students and institutions on the island,” she said.

“The problems in Puerto Rico can be an indicator of what US institutions may also experience and need to address if they want to better serve Latino students,” Santiago added.

The study found that:

  • The majority of colleges and universities are four-year institutions;
  • Public 4-year universities are more selective than private notprofit, four-year universities;
  • The majority of grant aid that students receive are federal Pell Grants and the amount of the Pell Grant award students receive has increased in the last 10 years;
  • The cost of attendance across all sectors has been increasing over the last 20 years and there is a significant gap between students’ cost of attendance and the grant aid they receive;
  • Private institutions have relied on tuition and fees as their main source of revenue, while public institutions have mainly relied on state and local funding. Public institutions’ expenditures are significantly higher than expenditures at private institutions;
  • Graduation rates have been on the rise at private four-year institutions but have remained relatively stagnant at public four-year institutions;
  • Despite an increasing share of the population attaining a postsecondary degree, Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate is high; and that
  • The top 10 occupations by share of the population employed are low-paying jobs, with annual wages ranging between $19,000 and $40,000, that do not necessarily require a postsecondary degree.

 Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education, said that the Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities’ involvement and efforts to involve and support the island’s colleges and universities “are fundamental for our association and the next phase of work in developing case studies on institutional resilience efforts in Puerto Rico.”

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.
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