Desperately seeking more university grads, Latin America lags behind most of the world; Ecuador leads the pack (see the graphics)

Jun 11, 2017 | 25 comments

By Elizabeth Gonzalez

Even in an increasingly machine-driven world, human capital is a crucial cog in the engine of any economy. The lack of it is a critical problem for Latin America, which has the highest skills shortage, per the World Economic Forum. Moreover, 50 percent of Latin American firms say they can’t find the skilled labor they need versus 36 percent of firms in Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

High-achieving Cuenca student awarded an overseas scholarship.

Though countries like Mexico may graduate more engineers than Germany, for example, every year it gives up a portion of these professionals to U.S. visa programs, aggravating existing domestic shortages. (In 2016, 2,500 professionals were working in the United States with H-1B visas.)

The good news is enrollment for higher-education degrees among 18- to 24-year-olds has doubled in Latin America, jumping from 21 percent in 2000 to 43 percent in 2013. That’s the largest regional improvement worldwide, though the graduation rate is still only 50 percent. And that can mean better wages: on average, Latin American higher-education graduates will make 104 percent more on a monthly basis than if they just had a high school degree. That payoff is higher in Latin American and the Caribbean than it is the rest of the developed world, according to a 2017 World Bank report, At a Crossroads: Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Since 2007, Ecuador has led other Latin American countries by a wide margin in its investment in higher education as a percentage of GDP, with Chile and Uruguay ranking second and third.

Credit: Americas Society / Council of the Americas,

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