Educational Trends in Colombia

Written By Trent Lorcher

Important indicators show Colombia as an important country for the recruitment of international students looking to study abroad in the United States and Canada. 

  • Colombia's public education budget is set to increase
  • Household spending on education is on the rise
  • The demand for vocational programs is growing
  • There's increased interest in globally certified educational programs. 
  • More students want English language education and study abroad opportunities.

It's time to position your school or agency as a prime resource in this South American country.

An Overview of Latin America

More than other markets, Latin American students focus on destination, experience, and affordability. Your ability to attract students to short-programs could be the key to establishing credibility in the region and creating strong relationships with important entities. Short term programs allow easy entry into the market. They're more affordable and more easily financed. Latin American students often opt for short-term intensive English learning programs. 

Destination plays a more important role in recruiting Latin American students than it does in recruiting students from other parts of the world. If your school is in a warm-weather locale--Florida, Texas, Southern California--emphasize it. If your school is near touristy places--amusement parks, cool cities--emphasize it. If your school does not have warm weather or touristy advantage, emphasize the positive experience of awaiting those who attend your school.

Latin American students want an affordable school with a non-complex admissions process. The option to pay in installments will increase the attractiveness of your program. 


An Overview of the Colombian Education System

The Colombian school system is an 11-year program--5 elementary years, 4 years of lower secondary education, and 2 years of upper secondary education. Education is free and compulsory for children between 5-15. 

At the university level, students strive for a professional degree, master's degree, or doctorate, just like the US and Canada. There are nearly 2-million students enrolled in Colombian universities. Technical degrees are popular for post-secondary students as well. 

Colombia has four major types of post-secondary institutions.

  • Universities that offer programs that lead to undergraduate degrees and a graduate degree in specific areas
  • Universities that offer all degree paths, including doctorates
  • Professional technical institutions that offer short-term training in vocational fields
  • Technological institutions that offer high-level training that lead directly to careers or upper-level studies

Although only 2 percent of Colombian tertiary students currently study abroad, the Colombian education ministry has cited mobility as one of its primary goals in the upcoming years.

According to Unesco, The United States is the most popular country for Colombian students studying abroad. The OECD has Spain as the number one choice, with the United States by far the most popular English-speaking country.

International Student Recruitment in Colombia

Two studies form the foundation for the following suggestions in recruiting international students from Colombia: (1) The British Council and English UK’s English Language Market Report: Colombia; and (2) The Canadian government’s 2012 report: The International Education Market in Colombia.

Recruiters should note that Colombian students looking to study abroad rely heavily on agencies to guide them. Colombian agencies value technology and students from Colombia expect technological savviness from schools reaching out to them. 

However, you'll need more than technology to attract international students from Colombia. You'll need to build relationships and guide students through the process. Many study abroad students from Colombia begin planning more than a year in advance. Keep in mind that parents of international students are probably not as proficient in English as their children who wish to study in the US and Canada, so brush up on your Spanish.

Other considerations include:

  • Students want detailed information about the cost of living while abroad. Information about safety, possible employment, and educational opportunities help too.
  • It's common, especially for language students, to work with more than one agency. You may receive more than one application from the same student because of this.
  • Although Colombian international banking is tightly regulated, most families prefer to make payments to local agencies instead of sending money overseas. Local assistance with international payments goes a long way in winning the trust of student families.
  • Colombia has mandatory military service at age 18. 

Understanding how Colombian agencies place students into the study abroad programs give your school an advantage when recruiting.

The Future of Education and Study Abroad in Colombia

Recent developments have stabilized Colombia politically. One of the sectors that have benefited the most from this stabilization is education. Colombian students are traveling out of the country at an increasing rate, about a 50 percent raise over the past decade. The amount of tertiary students remaining in the country during the same period has doubled. In short, those recruiting in this market will find students eager to study abroad, but finances do create an obstacle.

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About the author

Trent Lorcher has taught high school English for 19 years. In addition to hosting a foreign exchange student from China, he's traveled extensively, including 18 months in Central America, 2 years in Italy, and additional time in Mexico, France, Morocco, and Spain. He dreams of one day retiring to Spain with his beautiful bride in a place big enough for their 5 kids to visit.

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