Academic journal article Economia

Enrollment, Graduation, and Dropout Rates in Latin America: Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

Academic journal article Economia

Enrollment, Graduation, and Dropout Rates in Latin America: Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

The average years of education of the population across the world have increased dramatically in the last sixty years, and Latin America was no exception.1 A larger fraction of Latin American children and youth are now able to attend secondary school-especially among vulnerable families that were previously excluded from the education system. This large expansion brought with it a greater student heterogeneity, which increased the challenges of retaining children in school until graduation as well as providing a good quality of education for all students. Despite the magnitude of these changes, few attempts have been made to document and explain the patterns and trends of enrollment, graduation, and dropout rates in Latin America over the last two decades. This is what we do in this paper.

High school graduation has been a major concern in developed countries such as the United States. After showing an extraordinary growth from 6 percent in the beginning of the twentieth century to around 80 percent in the early 1970s, high school graduation rates stagnated or even declined slightly over the following three decades.2 This stagnation led many to refer to the problem as the dropout crisis or epidemic. Concerns with completion of secondary education in the United States generated a great deal of attention from researchers and government institutions, which led to an intense debate and a large literature on the measurement and definition of graduation and dropout rates. This literature presents a very wide range of estimates. As Heckman and LaFontaine state, "Depending on the data sources, definitions, and methods used, the U.S. graduation rate is claimed to be anywhere from 66 percent to 88 percent in recent years-a wide range for such a basic educational statistic."3

This paper examines patterns and trends of educational outcomes (in terms of graduation, dropout, enrollment, and overage rates) from 1990 to 2010 in eighteen Latin American countries for which comparable data from household surveys are available.4 In view of the significant changes in the education systems, educational policymakers need to have a clearer picture of these empirical regularities, its plausible explanations, and the potential challenges that might arise in the near future.

We build statistics that are comparable over time and across countries. Although we document levels and trends for several educational outcomes by country, we try not to emphasize individual countries' dynamics. The ultimate goal is to find common trends. The paper focuses mainly on secondary education, but it also analyzes educational outcomes in primary education as a precondition to be able to enroll in secondary education. We also explore heterogeneity in terms of countries, gender, income, and region, and we analyze outcomes for different birth cohorts.

We show that graduation rates in Latin America have improved remarkably since the early 1990s. The percentage of students graduating from primary and secondary school on time increased in the majority of countries included in our sample. Countries that showed lower graduation rates in the early 1990s have experienced larger improvements in graduation rates (especially in primary), converging toward countries that started with higher graduation rates in the beginning of the period analyzed. In addition, on average, every birth cohort since the early twentieth century shows a higher graduation rate in primary and secondary education than previous generations. The moment of the highest probability of school dropout in the education cycle shifted from primary and the transition to secondary to later in secondary schooling, implying that students stay longer in the education system.

Our results suggest that the increase in secondary school graduation can be associated with three factors: an increase in enrollment in and graduation from primary schools and in the efficacy of secondary schools to capture and retain those graduates; an increase in expected returns to education, which provided economic incentives to stay in secondary school; and several education policies implemented in the region. …

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