Safety issues deterring Americans from studying in Mexico, but efforts underway to increase exchanges

Safety concerns, such as the threat of crime and drug violence, are deterring American students from studying in Mexico, prompting them to choose Costa Rica, Argentina, and Brazil as their study destinations in Latin America instead, the Washington Post reports. This trend has resulted in Mexico losing its number one ranking among the most popular study destinations for Americans in the region over the past ten years.

According to figures provided by the Institute of International Education (IIE), less than 4,000 American students studied in Mexico in the academic year 2011-12, compared to more than 8,300 in 2000-01, marking a more than 50 per cent decrease over the past ten years. Noting that the main reason for this significant drop is “the perception of safety,” IIE President Allan Goodman, quoted in the article, stresses the benefit of increased exchanges between the U.S. and Mexico, particularly considering the large number of Americans with Mexican heritage:

“To have Americans growing up and know nothing about our Spanish-speaking citizens … means that our education is incomplete. Knowing Mexico to me is as important as taking another course in economics.”

The Post points out that several governmental initiatives are geared toward significantly increasing the number of American students studying in Mexico and vice versa:

  • President Obama’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative aims to increase the number of Americans studying abroad in Latin America, including Mexico, to 100,000, while bringing 100,000 students from the region to the U.S. by 2020;
  • The Mexican government’s Proyecta initiative strives to increase the number of Mexican students in the U.S. to 100,000 by 2018 [the Alliance reported]. According to IIE, approximately 14,000 Mexican students currently study at U.S. institutions.

The Post notes that the U.S. government’s intent to boost the number of Americans studying in Latin America was one of the reasons for this week’s visit to the region by Secretary of State John Kerry and former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, now the President of the University of California system. While Kerry noted during his trip that increasing U.S.-Mexico exchanges through initiatives like 100,000 Strong and Proyecta “is a way to strengthen our ties,” Napolitano pointed out that “student exchanges would help correct misperceptions on both sides of the border that Mexico is dangerous and that the United States is unfriendly to Mexicans:”

“The best way to change that is to have an actual experience.”