Monday, May 29, 2017

Does Being Pilo Pay Off For Colombia?

Scholarship students from the Ser Pilo Paga.
Ser Pilo Paga, the government program which gives scholarships to Colombia's best universities to top students from poor families, is paying off for the country.

That's according to Los Andes University economics professor Fabio Sánchez, whose study was financed by the National Planning Department. Sánchez reported that before the Pilo Paga program, only 28% of students who scored in the top 10% in the Saber 11 test went on to get a university education, and only 7% got into the top, or 'accredited', universities.

Those are mind boggling numbers. Looked at in reverse, they mean that 72% of top-scoring students didn't go on to university at all, and 93% of top-scoring students don't make it into top universities.

You can bet that the underlying dynamic there is economic. The talented students who don't get into
But who does it pay most?
universities lack either the money or connections to do so, while many low-scoring but wealthy students undoubtedly do go on to study in good universities.

That means a huge amount of wasted talent, and is probably a big reason why poverty here is so stubborn and innovation rates low.

In fact, another recent study, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), criticized Colombia's huge gap between poor and wealthy, and said that the nation's economic growth has benefited the poor little.

Better education for students from poor families could help change that, and Sánchez's study found that Pilo Paga helped increase access to higher education for those 10% of top-scoring students from 28% to 60%, and that the percentage entering those top 'accredited' universities skyrocketed from 7% to 53%.

The program has thus increased the social variety of universities like Los Andes, whose students previously came overwhelmingly from wealthy families.

Los Andes universit:
Muy Pilo!
All of which are impressive numbers, if they're accurate.

However, there's a reason someone should double check Sánchez's results. Sánchez's employer, Los Andes university, happens to be a major beneficiary of the Pilos Paga program. According to a column by Pablo Correa & Tatiana Pardo Ibarra, an editor and a reporter for the El Espectador newspaper, respectively, Los Andes has been by far the biggest beneficiary of the Pilo Paga program - so much so that in 2015 its rector called it "the most public university in the country."

Today, an impressive 35% of Los Andes' incoming students are part of Pilo Paga. Yet,the university raised its tuition by 5.3%, 6.9% and 9.6% over the last three years. As a result, Los Andes receives far more Pilos Paga money, even tho other universities such as La Javeriana and La Salle enroll more students from the program.

Others question whether the government should be using public funds to subsidize some of the country's most elite institutions while public universities suffer severe deficiencies. (Los Andes does differ from other private universities in that it has no owners, and its profits are all supposed to be reinvested in the university.)

Pilo Paga has provided scholarships for 31,000 students at a cost of a half trillion pesos. Might it have been better to have instead invested that money in the struggling public universities, which enroll primarily students from poorer families?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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