Academic journal article Making Connections

Mathematics Components of Entrance Exams at Peruvian State Universities: Rigorous Selection Criteria for Higher Education in an Emerging Economy

Academic journal article Making Connections

Mathematics Components of Entrance Exams at Peruvian State Universities: Rigorous Selection Criteria for Higher Education in an Emerging Economy

Article excerpt

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Introduction

Since 1995, I have spent the northern hemisphere's summers serving as a volunteer mathematics instructor for engineering majors at the Facultad de Tecnología of the Universidad de San Francisco Xavier (USFX), the state university in Sucre, Bolivia. I have often been impressed with the backgrounds, capabilities, and achievement levels of most of my students, and in particular of those who identified themselves as natives of Perú. The Peruvian students were invariably among the best performers on exams, and shared with me that they had chosen to attend a Bolivian institution because they were unable to pass the rigorous entrance exams of state universities in their own country, in spite of having spent one or two years attending private academies after having completed high school in order to prepare for such tests. I was told that Peruvian state universities generally have very low admissions rates. These observations were repeatedly confirmed during my frequent cross-border excursions into Perú while classes at the USFX were interrupted by strikes, national holidays, or academic recesses.

Decades ago, the Bolivian government decided to "democratize" state universities by making them generally accessible to large segments of the population and admitting a less well prepared student body than was common in other South American nations. The state universities in the cities of La Paz and Cochabamba have maintained somewhat stringent admissions criteria, but other state universities, such as the USFX, typically admit about half of all applicants, most of whom are able to begin their studies immediately after having finished high school. For students who are unable to pass the entrance exam for engineering majors of the USFX's Facultad de Tecnología , the school offers open-admissions carreras técnicas (technician programs) similar to vocational programs at community colleges in the U.S. These academic tracks include three-year courses of study in information technology, food science, industrial chemistry, and interior design leading to the técnico superior (senior technician) diploma, as well as two-year técnico (technician) degree programs which train future electricians and auto mechanics. Most students who complete the carreras técnicas leave the university and attempt to enter the work force, although a smaller number are able to transfer some of their credits toward undergraduate engineering programs. Whereas a relatively low percentage of students admitted to the Facultad de Tecnología's engineering programs succeed in obtaining their diplomas within six years, the degree completion rate is high in most other disciplines. A large number of graduates from public institutions flood the Bolivian job market each year, and few are able to secure employment related to their studies, in part because the less stringent admissions practices of Bolivian state universities do not confer a level of prestige comparable to that of the much more selective Peruvian schools.

I hope that this article will alert American readers of wide disparities in selection criteria for admission to higher education which exist throughout Latin America, and inform them that in many developing countries, access to a statesubsidized education at a public university is limited to only the best prepared and most highly motivated, and often to students of privileged socioeconomic origins.

The Entrance Exams

Intrigued by reports of difficult entrance exams, I travelled to Perú late in the summer of 2010 after having completed my teaching services at the USFX. During this visit, I investigated university admissions practices, and was able to obtain copies of old entrance exams of various public and private universities from kiosks on the campuses of these institutions. Such copies are routinely distributed to prospective students in order to allow them to prepare for the entrance exams. …

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