Latin America tipped as potential branch campus growth region

US universities are opening outposts in the region to capitalise on untapped market and skirt barriers created by the Trump administration

June 20, 2019
Guanajuato
Source: iStock

Latin America has been tipped as a potential growth region for international branch campuses as US universities look to mitigate the impact of Donald Trump’s anti-migrant rhetoric.

New Mexico State University has become the latest institution to confirm that it is establishing an outpost in the region, with a Mexico campus scheduled to open in 2021. It follows Texas Tech University, which opened a site in Costa Rica last year, and Arkansas State University, which launched a Mexico outpost in 2017.

The region has a large youth population, and some of its countries face questions over the quality of their domestic higher education provision. However, it has historically had very little branch campus activity despite its booming population and its proximity to the US.

Jason Lane, interim dean of the School of Education at the State University of New York Albany and co-director of the Cross-Border Education Research Team, said that this might be because US universities generally do not host large numbers of students from the region, compared with Asia, which is a major branch campus hub.

But he predicted that if these early models are successful, “we’ll see more US institutions looking to move into Latin America”.

“In Latin America, historically there has been allowance for private education to develop in a healthy way, so I think branches may take advantage of that,” Dr Lane added.

Rolando Flores, dean and chief administrative officer of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at NMSU, said that the new site, which will offer undergraduate and postgraduate education and will undertake research, would strengthen its links with businesses in Mexico and help the university recruit students from the region, who might find it difficult to negotiate the US’ increasingly strict immigration policies.

“Students won’t have to apply for a visa to come to the US. They can study over there in Mexico, and they can get a degree from NMSU,” he said.

Professor Flores added that the campus would also help the university “get away from the rhetoric” about Latin America that is used by many members of the Trump administration. NMSU’s main campus is in Las Cruces, just 46 miles (about 75km) north of the frontier with Mexico, and one of its primary strategic goals is to create “healthy borders” to improve international trade.

“We think that we are better suited to be active members of eliminating those divisive issues through education, through collaboration and through cultural activities,” Professor Flores said.

However, Liz Reisberg, a higher education consultant and expert on Latin America, said it was unlikely that branch campuses would proliferate in the region.

“It’s worked well elsewhere because of humongous subsidies from the host government, and that isn’t going to happen in Mexico or Costa Rica,” she said.

She went on to explain that US branch campuses would struggle to compete with national private universities and that a limited number of families in Latin America could afford US-level tuition fees.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Latin America in the frame for US university outposts

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