Equity in tertiary education in Central America : an overview
This paper analyzes the evolution in socio-economic and ethnic disparities in tertiary education attainment, participation, and completion and labor market outcomes in the six countries of Central America. There is evidence of differential progress, with Costa Rica, a middle-income country, and Nicaragua, a low-income country, having improved participation of low-income students in tertiary education, while this continues to be negligible in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Wide differentials in salaries linked to socio-economic background can signal differences in the quality of tertiary education or prior educational experiences. The analysis distinguishes between long-term and short-term constraints and the key transitions in the education cycle that impede access to tertiary education. The main obstacle to accessing tertiary education for poor students is the failure to either start or complete secondary education, suggesting different priorities for different countries in addressing long-term constraints. However, problems also arise within tertiary education, as in all countries the average tertiary education completion rate is below 50 percent, with even lower rates for students from low-income families and indigenous backgrounds. The paper uses an OECD framework for public policies for promoting equity in tertiary education to assess policies in Central American countries and concludes that many of them currently lack the policies, instruments, and institutional mechanisms to promote greater equity in tertiary education. The paper highlights how valuable insights can be obtained from analysis of household survey data in the absence of comprehensive data on tertiary education which is typical of many developing countries.
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