INFRASTRUCTURE

Could Latin America be the next big destination for branch campuses?

SOURCE: Byelikova Oksana/Shutterstock
Could Latin America be the next big destination for branch campuses?

United States President Donald Trump has left a lasting impression on many facets of American life – and the education sector is no exception.

The bombastic president’s anti-migrant rhetoric, which has remained at the forefront of his turbulent two-and-a-half-year term, was inevitably going to have an effect on university intake. And according to some educators, the impacts are starting to bite.

The number of new international students attending American colleges and universities has been on the decline for the last two years.

Franciscan Missions in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere of Querétaro, Mexico – the town of Arkansas State University’s newest campus.

According to a report from non-profit Open Doors, newly arriving foreign students fell about 7 percent in the 2017-2018 school year. The number of students dropped to about 271,000.

While Trump cannot be solely blamed for this drop in applications – more choice and rising costs are also culprits – educators have raised fears that the uncertainty and often hostile policies of the administration are putting students off.

A main focus of much of this anti-migrant rhetoric has been those from Latin American nations; people Trump has repeatedly referred to in derogatory terms.

Trump’s hardline approach on the issue, while awful to hear, may present an unexpected opportunity for US universities, namely new campus branches.

YOU MIGHT LIKE

Back in 2017, Arkansas State University became one of the first US colleges to open a branch in Latin America, setting up Campus Querétaro in Mexico.

Texas Tech University followed suit, opening the doors to their Costa Rica campus last year.

“In a global community, the internationalisation of US higher education across borders is the new frontier. Texas Tech’s global outreach, starting in Costa Rica, has the potential to make a difference and be a game changer in Central America and beyond,” Jack J. Bimrose, director of EDULINK, a partner of Texas Tech, said at the opening of the new site.

View of San Pedro hill at sunrise in San Luis Potosi – the same town as New Mexico State University’s planned campus.

“University education in the United States is valued and admired worldwide, and we believe it has the unique power to change the lives and futures of students, families, communities, nations and the world.”

New Mexico State University (NMSU) became the latest to join them, securing permission in March to set up a Mexico campus in San Luis Potosí.  University officials said it would reach a market in Mexico that is eager for diplomas from American universities while gaining a toehold for the state’s economic development efforts deep in a country that is a central trading partner.

Despite being home to a young population, it is only recently that Latin America has become an appealing prospect to universities who have mainly focused their attention on Asia and the Middle East.

YOU MIGHT LIKE

But that could be about to change if these first pioneers prove successful.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Dean and Chief Administrative Officer of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at NMSU, said the new campus will build bridges with their southern neighbours, cultivate business ties in Mexico, and help the university recruit students from the region who might find it difficult to negotiate America’s 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.

Querétaro, Mexico – the town of Arkansas State University’s newest campus.

With NMSU’s US campus just 75 kilometres from the Mexican border, the university is keen to improve ties, maintain links, and counteract some of Trump’s rhetoric. As Flores says:

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