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Recruiting Intelligence

When Traditional Student Markets Weaken, Look to Latin America: Part 1


The decline in enrollment continues in two really important student segments for so many US universities: domestic US and Chinese students.

So, what are you doing about it? Plenty, we are sure. 

As campus pressures continue to mount, institutions are diversifying enrollment targets and considering options that were only peripherally on their radars in the past. Today's discussion: Part 1 in a 2-part series on LATAM.

A word to the wise: while China as an enrollment target has shifted for many institutions, the Chinese student audience is not one any of us should ignore. The volume of students from China to the US, UK, Australia, and Canada, among other nations, continues to be significant as compared to the flow from other countries. Strategies, messaging, and expectations should adjust.

As far as domestic recruiting in the US, we don’t see US institutions bailing on domestic student recruitment any time soon ; -) Again, strategies, messaging, and expectations.

Registration is about to close. Join us in San Diego on Dec. 13 to evaluate how your institution can adapt to the new international student recruitment landscape. The Intead/San Diego State University One-Day Workshop will be a hands-on opportunity to learn from an awe-inspiring international student recruitment faculty.

  • Come with questions, leave with a plan.
  • Two luminary keynotes
    • Luncheon on Social Justice with Dr. Jewell Winn and Dr. Adrienne Fusek
    • Dinner on Chinese Student Influencers with Dr. Yingyi Ma and Brad Farnsworth
  • A full day of international student recruitment strategy and execution discussion. 
  • At $350 for the day (inclusive of all meals), this learning opportunity is a steal.

What we are seeing: more institutions are (finally!) taking global diversification seriously and are reconsidering how and where to spend student recruitment marketing dollars. Recruiting beyond China is the right move, right now. And no, this doesn’t mean going all in on India either.

It’s time to add a few new eggs to your basket (or make your current basket of eggs larger). Look for markets ripe for recruitment -- those with a growing youth population, rising incomes, and real employment opportunities for returning grads. Oh, and some institution-specific data that supports your institution’s connection to that source country.

It’s a drum we’ve beat before (see our recent two-part series on recruiting students from Africa: part 1, part 2). Today, Latin America is a region with a rising youth population, a range of strengthening economies, and only a handful of in-country competitive higher ed institutions.

In fact, this year only one Latin American university made it into the top 100 global 2023 QS World University Rankings. Two more made it into the top 200. (#67 Universidad de Buenos Aires, #104 Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, #115 Universidad de Sao Paulo). In other words, enterprising youth have very few top-tier research-intensive universities from which to choose within their region. 

Thankfully, we know, it is not all about rankings. And yes, just like you, we have all the same misgivings and cranky commentary about the ranking systems and what they perpetuate. There are many reasons, beyond rankings, that students from Latin America seek study opportunities abroad. Our market research (pre-COVID) continues to provide valuable insights into the motivations of students from emerging markets. Download that report HERE.

All this to say, Latin American students represent an opportunity worth exploring right now (have been for a while).

So, we’re giving you our latest analysis to get you going in the right direction. In this week’s post we offer a review of Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia. Next week, Venezuela, Peru, and Argentina. We think you’ll find our insights useful as a starting point for the work you’re doing this recruitment cycle as well as the next. Read on.

As you consider these Latin American student recruitment options, a few data points you’ll want to evaluate from your institution’s country-specific data:

  • Website traffic
  • Email open rates and social media interactions
  • Historic enrollment data
  • Faculty and administrative connections to these countries

When thinking about employment opportunities for your graduates, important to consider that growing industries all require well-trained and ambitious business operations (marketing, sales, finance, HR), IT, and engineering leaders. Take a few minutes to cruise around on the job sites we offer below to get a sense of where the opportunities are for your graduates. Oh, and did we mention that cybersecurity jobs are growing everywhere? Uhm, they are.

LATAM Data* Source: WorldBank  **Source: WorldBank


Brazil is the leading economy in Latin America and one of the world’s leading economies in mining, agriculture, and industry with exports mainly in steel, cars, consumer goods, soybeans, and coffee—producing 40% of the world’s coffee alone! Which of your academic programs would best prepare students for these careers? Agribusiness degrees anyone?

For Brazilians, economic success is tied to education, however, higher education is seen as a luxury for many citizens with many having to quit school early to find jobs to help support their families as the average middle-class Brazilian earns US$756 in monthly income.

Most citizens in universities are of the higher middle class and upper class due to the varying high costs of universities. Veteran enrollment managers here in the US know that for many years, Brazil has sent the most students to the US compared to other Latin American countries. 14,000 Brazillian students studied in the US during the 2020/21 academic year alone, according to IIE. Overall, Brazilians have a favorable view of the US.

 Brazil's economic data:

  • Rising industries: architecture, agriculture, education, finance, and information and communications technologies (US Dept of Commerce)
  • Employment opportunities: Empregos


Fun fact: Mexico is one of the leading publishing centers of Spanish-language books and the world leader in Spanish-language TV and media. Even so, only half or so of the population has achieved secondary schooling, and about one-third of adults have had no primary schooling. A contributing factor: the majority of quality public schools are limited to urban areas. Likewise, institutions of higher education are mostly available in major cities. Similar to Brazil, only middle- and upper-class families can afford private schools. Notably, about 12,000 students from Mexico studied in the US during the 2020/21 academic year alone, according to IIE.

Mexico has one of the world’s largest economies with food and beverage as a major industry. Again, agribusiness degrees, anyone? (Notice the trend here).

Mexico's economic data:

  • Rising industries: aerospace/defense, automotive, energy, industrial materials, information and communications technologies, and infrastructure/construction (US Dept of Commerce)
  • Employment opportunities: Opcionempleo


Petroleum is Colombia’s main export, but Colombia also has the fastest-growing information technology industry in the world. (They also have the longest fiber optics network in all of Latin America. Now you know.). Also cool, Colombia is home to many world-renowned artists, some recognized as Nobel Prize Laureates. It's not always all about technology!

Historically in Colombia, higher education tuition was based on the student’s socioeconomic background. However, starting in 2021, tuition became free for 97% of students. Most universities are found in Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá.

Colombia's economic data:

  • Rising industries include: electric power and renewable energy systems, information and communications technology, infrastructure, oil and gas, food and beverages, defense, ecommerce, medical equipment, and education (US Dept of Commerce)
  • Employment opportunities: Un Mejor Empleo Colombia

Next week: insights about Venezuela, Peru, and Argentina.

Last Chance to Sign up: We’re eager to see you at our international student recruitment workshop on the campus of San Diego State University in December. Will you join us?

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