Learning Is Earning

Antonio Villa, 57, a chauffeur with an eighth-grade education, sacrificed heavily to send his two children to private high schools and universities, often spending more than half of his $15,000 annual salary on tuition and books. But it has been worth it: His son, Marco Antonio, 25, earned a degree in systems engineering from UNITEC, a private university, and now works for a foreign-owned bank, while his daughter, Erika, 21, is studying law at another private college, Universidad del Valle de México (UVM). "My wife and I always pushed our kids to do well at their studies so they could be successful and find good jobs," says Villa.

A university education increasingly is seen as essential for young Mexicans, so much so that university enrollment has doubled, to more than 2.4 million, over the past 15 years. Private universities quadrupled their enrollment to nearly 1 million over the same period. "Next to buying a house, the highest aspiration of the middle class is for their children to have a university degree," says UVM Chief Operating Officer Ralf Peters.

UVM is a surprising example of how Mexicans' rising hopes are benefiting U.S. business. The for-profit UVM is owned by Laureate International Universities, a Baltimore-based outfit that runs a network of 24 for-profit universities in 15 countries. In 2005, Laureate logged profits of $85.7 million on revenues of $875.5 million.

Mexico is Laureate's biggest operation, with 67,000 students on 21 campuses around the country. "We are totally centered on the middle class," says Peters. Tuition is around $4,000 a year, a fraction of the $9,000-plus that Mexico's elite institutions charge. UVM specializes in practical career majors, from business administration to health sciences and law. Fluency in English is a requirement for graduation. Peters says around 60% of his alums land a job within six months.

Mexico has tuition-free public universities and technical institutes, too, but they can't keep up with demand. Says recent UVM graduate, Liliana Cruz: "The competition is growing because we're all struggling toward the same goal: having a decent lifestyle."

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