One of the first things I learned about Costa Rica was that education is of upmost importance there. With no military costs, they dedicate about 30 percent of the country’s budget to providing free, quality education. Attending school is required and is divided into preschool, primary school, and secondary school (middle/high school). Providing this free and required education seems to have allowed Costa Rica to have the highest literacy rate in Central America, with over 95% of it’s citizens being literate.
I was most surprised to learn that going to a public university there is very affordable, if one manages to score high enough to get in. My tica teacher explained that you take an intensive test, similar to the SAT or ACT here in the United States. You also pick three degrees you are interested in, each of which have a minimum score needed to be accepted into the program. You must score within the minimum of at least one of your chosen degrees. If you do that, then you are free to choose from the degrees you qualified for. According to my tica teacher, these tests are very difficult and are used to pick only the best students within each degree program.
As far as cost goes, my tica teacher explained that most students received scholarships to cover the already affordable costs. Depending on economic status, you can have 60% to 100% of your tuition and additional costs covered. Over half of the students get scholarships. Even without these scholarships, the cost is much more affordable than a university education in the United States. Private education is also available, but that can be more costly. According to my tica teacher and my “mama tica”, those who attend private schools do so due to a more flexible class schedule, the ability to finish their degree faster, or inability to pass the rigorous entrance exams at a public university. Due to this, it seems public universities are held in higher regard than private ones, another difference to most of the education system in the United States.
As a social worker, I wonder how much making education so much more accessible financially has leveled out the playing field for oppressed communities. I know here in the United States, having such accessible education would make a huge difference in the diversity found within universities, and would positively impact oppressed communities. How far are we from providing quality higher education at a much affordable cost? What would it mean to young people to know they would be able to graduate from college with very little to no debt? I personally think the impact would shift so much within our society. For now, it is just a dream for the United States that I saw as a reality in Costa Rica. Hopefully the future holds something similar for our country.