October 4, 2002

A College Education – Only for the Rich in Tijuana!

By Mariana Martinez

I tried twice to get into med school at UABC. The second time around I was really desperate, but they gave preference to those who’s parents were all so doctors. I couldn’t go another year without school, so I enrolled in Ibero-a private university. I study electromecanical engineering. I work at the school in my free time in order to pay for my education.


TIJUANA, BC. — Stories like Hilda’s have become more and more common in Tijuana.

More than 2600 students were rejected this year at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California –UABC– statewide, all of them planning to go to a public college. Now they are faced with the choice of once again trying to get into UABC or enrolling in one of the many private colleges in the city.

According to a report of the National Universities and Higher Education Institutes Association –ANUIES– Tijuana has over thirty higher education institutions. Eight of those are public; two exclusively for teachers of all levels, one research center that offers master and doctorate degrees (COLEF) and the rest, colleges that mainly offer bachelor degrees or engineering.

Universidad Autonoma de Baja California is the largest and most crowded of those public universities, it has campuses in four of the state districts, UABC offers 35 majors in Mexicali, eleven in Ense-nada, one in Tecate and twenty in Tijuana.

This last period more than 3000 students enrolled for the first time at the UABC campus in Tijuana, with an average cost of 100 to 200 dlls. per semester. Its high academic standard and low cost makes UABC the first choice of most high school graduates.

Different from the United States, Mexican education is structured in that you need to declare a major before you enroll. This is because each campus host different majors, and every campus has a different student capacity.

The demand is highly unbalanced; for communication, law or business majors, the demand exceeds three times the school’s capacity, on the other end of the spectrum chemical science and engineering are rarely full.

When I got out of high school I had no idea what to do, but they told me it was easy to get into a literature major, so I did. I finished two years ago, but know I regret it. What do I do with a degree in literature, in a city like Tijuana? I should a thought it through.


Opportunity for whom?

Due to the desperation students face, private universities is big business in Tijuana. In the last few years a large number of schools have opened -most of them without the proper requirements or with permits pending- that offer bachelors degrees in less time than older, more consolidated institutions.

22 private universities in a city of 3 million would be a luxury, if only they had RVOE: the validity of studies acknowledgment- without it, an institution can’t issue a degree.

This RVOE is issued by the education authority SEP or the state government, only after the school is inspected: the class plan, campus, staff, teachers credentials and directives in place. Only then can you get RVOE.

The state plans to acquire more funding to build new schools, but like many other needed changes around the city, the proper funding for higher education is going to take time, meanwhile more and more high school graduates are paving their own road.

A lot of universities in the city have decided to plan there schedules in four month plans, that way they can meet the demand and fit three full school periods in a year -with two weeks rest between- that’s how most offer bachelors degrees in three years or less.

The money you have to spend for tuition to go to a private college varies, but most are between $350 and $400 a month.

The high prices worry Mexican families who prefer private schooling for their young children-catholic school is preferred-and rely on public colleges for the older ones. A family with three children, two in high school and one in college would have to pay a thousand dollars a month in school fees, not counting uniforms and extra supplies they sometimes require. A lot of families have to face the fact that most don’t have that kind of money.

That’s why it comes as no surprise that 18.2% of those between the ages of 12 and 19 are working and 67.5% of those 20 to 25 have full time jobs.

The percentage is higher in Tijuana than the rest of the country, due in part to the high cost of living in this city.

Studying here is a costly comfort.

The changing face of college.

I preferred a private college. Money was scarce at home so I worked fulltime throughout it, from 3 in the afternoon till midnight as an operator for a cellphone company. It was tough but I hate to owe anyone anything, I did it on my own.

–Julia (Valedictorian of her generation 1997-2002)

Many colleges around here are taking the “quick and easy” approach to teaching, where the important thing is how quickly you get your degree, and not the formative experience that it is suppose to stand for.

This transformation is also changing the students. While many have given up on the dream of being a fulltime student, many have to face the fact that, with only a high school diploma, and the uneven relationship between salaries and college prices, their only choice is a full time job.

With forty hours a week at work, going to school becomes more like an extra.

Some try to take advantage of this and file applications for jobs in their field of study, but no degree and no experience in the field are not the best credentials.

Some industries in the city have seen the phenomena and decide to create shifts around college schedules- 8 to 1pm, 2 to 8pm or 4 to 10pm. Such is the case with many telemarketing companies that are now filled with students or even graduates due to the high pay and simple job requirements.

Some fortune students are able to pay for college by working in their school, most of them can arrange to work in an area related to their major of interest as an exchange for a special, lower fee.

Each semester the cases of each scholarship holder is reviewed and evaluated by the school committee.... the anguish of those deliberation days is huge, what if they lower my scholarship? What then?

Changing from college to college is not that easy, SEP requires a 40% revalidation policy that assures them that every graduate has taken most of his classes in the school from which they graduates.

And about the college life experience? A majority of the campuses in the city have very little to offer in terms of extracirricular such as sports facilities, chess clubs, or drama clubs, sororitys

I wish I could try out for the basketball team this year, but I work in a law firm from 9 to 5 and go to school till 10, when I get home all I want is my bed!


Most students feel like they are being pushed in to a full time career without any preparation or an opportunity to choose a satisfying career.

The government is not prepared to meet the education needs of a rapidly growing city like Tijuana. More public and private schools is desperately needed, but vigilance and planning are all so needed, in order to give some type of unity and direction for the future professionals.

Social researcher Benedicto Ruiz (Frontera sep 21-02) sums it up by saying “we are faced with a very marked tendency towards the “un-academization” that consists mainly in perceiving college life as a necessary bridge in to the job market, Whose abilities and skills, are not always compatible with broader cultural horizons”

How is knowledge going to survive in a torrent of market demands?

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