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Isaac Carranza

Rhetoric I
October 1st, 2014.
University of Costa Rica: Education for the Rich?
Education is certainly one of the most effective ways for taking people out of
poverty and reducing inequality, thus contributing to the countrys economic and
social development. Therefore, if a country wants to improve its standards of living,
it must foster public education for poor people; providing higher education for these
people plays a key role in this strategy. In fact, as people have higher education
and reach college, they are less likely to be poor in the future because they will
probably have higher salaries (van der Berg 2). In this sense, Costa Rica is well
known worldwide for investing a great amount of resources in education, and
higher education receives an important part of these, especially the University of
Costa Rica (UCR).
Yet this system has not been effective in really helping poor people.
Contrary to what it is commonly argued, students from high-income families are the
ones that benefit the most from education in UCR.
This situation is depicted in an article from La Nacin, Alumnos de colegios
privados con ms opcin de ingresar a la UCR. Fernndez shows that students
from private and semi-private high schools (i. e. high schools that are only partly
subsidized by the State) have twice probabilities of being admitted in a major than

those from a public high school. According to this information, among all the
students from private high schools that took the admission exam and were labeled
as eligible, 47% of them were accepted in a major; among the students from semiprivate high schools, the percentage was almost the same, 46%. For students from
public high schools, however, the percentage was barely 23%.
In another article, Fernndez (1) shows that students from private high
schools are predominant among the majors that require high grades in the
admission exam, which usually are the most sought. Besides Fernndez, in Estado
de la Educacin, the problem is confirmed; in UCR, students from private or semiprivate high schools are predominant. The problem worsens as it estimated that
half of the students in private schools belong only to the 20% of the richer people in
the country (Siu 2).
Another factor that complicates the problem is that universities are
acquainted with the situation, though not much has changed. For university
authorities the situation is the reflection of the increasing inequality in the country
(Alvarado 12), but could it be the other way around?
Hidalgo, a researcher from Cato Institute, points out in his blog that poor
people who probably will never have the opportunity to be admitted in UCR are
paying taxes to subsidy the education of the richer people and the upper middle
class. Thus, it affects poor people because the situation worsens inequality. The
cycle may repeat since at the same time, according to Estado de la Educacin,
33% of UCR students have parents that have at least one college degree. Also,

Vargas (2010) had an interesting thought: Much of the poor students do not even
graduate from high school, so the subsidy of higher education mostly benefits welloff students, thereby exacerbating inequality instead of alleviating it. Hidalgo also
mentioned in his blog that well-off families invest on private school and pay lots of
money for it. But then they pay much less for higher education than what they paid
in high school; the rest of society pays their education, Hidalgo states.
Having considered these facts, one can assume that the real purpose of
public higher education is not being fulfilled. That is, the system barely provides
education to people who do not have the means to afford it. Yet it mostly subsidies
education for those who do have the means and enough income to pay for it as it
was not intended.
Thus, a possible solution for this problem could be to change the tuition
system in UCR in order to really help poor students. High-income students could
pay a higher tuition. For example, according to Vicerrectora de Administracin1, a
current student with no scholarship pays a maximum of 12 credits; this is
156.780, which divided by three, equals 13.065 per credit. After 12 credits, there
is no additional charge. In a new system, this top could be eliminated so that
students actually pay for all of the credits. Besides, the costs of credits could be
raised since, according to Vargas, well-off students do not even pay the real cost of
them. Currently, students in private universities such as Universidad Latina and
Universidad Autnoma de Centro Amrica pay, only for one course, from 50 000

http://www.vra.ucr.ac.cr/node/421

to 80 000, which in some cases is half of what a person pays for 12 credits in
UCR.
Undoubtedly, such idea would raise much opposition from stakeholders.
However, changing the tuition system is ethically appropriate. For example, some
stakeholders, as the former head of UCR, may argue that education is a right and
must be free (Marn). Doubtless, education is a right but not free, not even if it is
subsidized by the State. In this same Marns note, economist Thelmo Vargas
states that though public higher education is subsidized by the State, it does not
mean that it is free. All citizens, including those who will never study in UCR, have
paid taxes to pay for it.
Changing the tuition system in UCR is ethical because it will not affect poor
students. Instead, it is the current system that affects poor people by excluding
them. In a new tuition system, the extra money that the university receives could
be spent on preparing students from public schools for the admission exam,
assigning more scholarships to poor students, investing on infrastructure in
campuses located out of the capital, and raising the amount of money that students
with scholarship receive.
Changing the system does not affect well-off students either. As shown
previously, they have the means to afford it. Besides, new tuitions, even if they are
raised, could still be lower than the real cost as not to affect anyone.
In terms of legality, changing the tuition system is feasible. The current
Rector said that no university is financed by tuitions, not even Yale or Oxford; they

are mostly financed with State funds (Siu 2). But a change in the tuition system can
be implemented without defunding university. The university, though, could still be
mostly financed by the State. It does not even require changing any regulation
since current regulation states that money from tuitions could only be spent on
students and not on salaries or the like (Siu 2)
A big challenge, however, is to address actions that can promote the
change. First, one helpful action is research. Students, professors, university
institutes, and journalists can do further research about the topic to create
awareness of the problem among students and to denounce the situation. In fact,
the topic has gained relevance due to a study from the same UCR by Instituto de
Ciencias Econmicas. Another practical action is to call FEUCRs2 attention;
talking directly to them or sending emails informing them about the problem are
effective ways to call their attention. Along with FEUCR, one can organize
assemblies and forums to discuss this suggestion and make necessary
modifications to it. Finally, politicians can also help. Some politicians have pointed
out the situation, for example, Otto Guevara and Ottn Sols. Thus making
appointments with them and sharing information via email could be helpful to get
more political support.
University students are taught to be critical, and this situation is one of those
in which students have to show their criticism and intelligence. Criticizing this
situation is not easy. It totally affects the status quo, and it is opposite to the
mainstream ideas within it. But the problem exists and cannot be denied. The
2

Federacin de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Costa Rica

problem is complex, and a magical solution does not exist. Yet to solve a problem,
it is necessary to start with a suggestion, and soon there will be many others.
Whether they are opposite or favorable is not important, but a single suggestion
can derive in a more feasible solution to the problem through modifications and
deliberations. What really matters is to solve this inequality in the access in UCR.
Otherwise, the university, instead of contributing to reducing poverty and inequality,
will worsen the problem even more. If students are really critical and intelligent,
they should not allow this situation.

Works Cited
Alvarado, Josu. Equidad en ingreso a la U an es tarea pendiente. Semanario
Universidad. Sept. 24, 2014. Print.
Cuarto Informe Estado de la Educacin. Programa Estado de la Nacin. 2013.
Web. Retrieved from http://www.estadonacion.or.cr/estadoeducacion/educacion-informe-ultimo
Fernndez, Alejandro. Alumnos de colegios privados con ms opcin de ingresar
a la UCR. La Nacin. Oct. 21, 2012. Web.
Fernndez, Alejandro. Alumnos de colegios privados con ventaja para carreras
lite. La Nacin. Oct. 25, 2012. Web.
Hidalgo, Juan Carlos. Hood Robin. Nov. 24, 2004. Blog. Retrieved from
http://jchidalgo.blogspot.com/2004/11/hood-robin-en-accin.html

Marn, Roco. Educacin superior pblica, bien social gratuito? Boletn


Presencia Universitaria. August, 2009. Web. Retrieved from
http://www.odi.ucr.ac.cr/boletin/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&i
d=792&Itemid=1
Siu, Mara. Estudiantes de colegios privados llenan universidades pblicas. La
Repblica. Aug. 27, 2014. Web.
van der Berg, Servaas. Poverty and Education. United Nations Educational,
Scientifical and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 2008. Print.
Vargas, Thelmo. Universidades pblicas: echar agua en un canasto. La Nacin.
Jun. 21, 2010. Web. Retrieved from
http://www.nacion.com/opinion/Universidades-publicas-echar-aguacanasto_0_1129287105.html