Colombia’s Goal: More Success in Higher Education, More Opportunities for Youth

January 24, 2013

Isabelle Schäfer/World Bank

  • Only 37.2% of young Colombians continued their studies or training after high school in 2010.
  • The Government’s goal is that half of young Colombians continue their education after high school by 2014.
  • A Colombian with a bachelor’s degree earns about 3.5 times more than one with only a high school certificate.

Investing in education and youth now can define the future of a nation. In Colombia, young people  represent almost 30% of the working age population – a huge potential and opportunity for the country’s development.

And as around 17% of young Colombians are unemployed, according to official statistics, quality education and training in skills that potential employers seek seems crucial.

The government has set  a goal: by 2014, half of the young Colombians should continue their studies or training after high school. In 2010, only 37.2% did so.

Until then, although coverage has increased over the years, there are quite a few hurdles to overcome.

A newly released report “Reviews of National Policies for Education: Tertiary Education in Colombia” led by Ian Whitman from the OECD and Michael Crawford from the World Bank, analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the Colombian tertiary education system and how it could be improved and made accessible to more people, regardless of their social condition or where they live.

On track with international standards, but high drop-out rates

In general, top Colombian universities and other institutions are making notable progress in access and quality, and are on track with international standards.

Moreover, the options that young people have are diverse: they can choose between technical training or a private or public university path, the study points out. The government aims at increasing the percentage of students who take the technical path to 45%.

However, 45.4% of students had dropped out of tertiary education in 2010. And 39% of young Colombians never continued studying after secondary school.

Why is that? Part of the answer lies in secondary school – students’ results were low at the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test that compares what 15-year-olds know in different countries.

In mathematics, Colombian youngsters lagged 3 years of schooling behind an average French student, and in reading, 2 years behind an average British student. Although Colombia’s PISA score increased between 2006 and 2009, there is still much room for improvement.

“The academic standards Colombian students have achieved by the time they enter tertiary education are generally low in comparison with other countries. This lack of “college-readiness” leads to academic struggle and high dropout, with the least advantaged students the worst affected,” the authors of the study explain. And that will have dire consequences on their future jobs, wages and life quality.

" Equity aims will not be fully met until all young people (whatever their background) are well-prepared to enter the tertiary system "

Having a degree pays off

As it is, a Colombian with a bachelor’s degree earns about 3.5 times more than a Colombian with a high school certificate and a Colombian with a Master’s degree earns roughly 8 times more.

“Equity aims will not be fully met until all young people (whatever their background) are well-prepared to enter the tertiary system,” the study points out.

The more young people are prepared in secondary school, the more chances they have to enter higher education and to be successful in it.

Colombia already has a functional grant system for students – by improving the accuracy of how they are classified according to their socio-economic situation, it could focus more on those who most need the financial help, the study suggests.

Another point would be to integrate technical education completely within the higher education system, and strengthen that path. And in general, continuing to monitor the quality of the university system is essential.

As the report states: “Do not accept complacency or settle for mediocrity.” – so that Colombian students become competitive with the best of the world.

The World Bank in Colombia

The World Bank is collaborating with Colombia in the education sector, offering an integral package of financial products, including lending for projects. Moreover, it gives technical assistance and analytical support, bringing together the main stakeholders in the topic, and facilitates the exchange of experiences and knowledge generated in Colombia and the world.