Brazilian university students Claudio Azzi and Pedro Delfino participated in Brazil's Student Leaders Program, an exchange program organized by the Department of State and the U.S. Embassy that selects good students to come to America and learn about American History and leadership. Azzi and Delfino took classes at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and stayed in the country for five weeks.
By Claudio Azzi and Pedro Delfino
As Brazilian students visiting such a wonderful country and a great university for such a short time, it has been a challenging experience to absorb such a different culture and academic knowledge. We want to use this text to reflect about one subject that interest us a lot: education. More specifically higher education, which we are experiencing right now and the one that the U.S. has, without any doubt, superiority in the world. We want to share some aspects of American higher education that, in our opinion, make this country such powerhouse.
A good start for this comparison is the entrance path (to higher education) in both countries. In Brazil, almost all universities only use the result of one standardized test (similar to the U.S. SAT). This entrance exam is applied once a year, so that universities may choose their future students.
American universities ... have a very large budget compared to other universities around the globe. -Azzi and Delfino
In the U.S., there is a wide variety of other aspects that are also used to choose students, such as high school scores and extracurricular activities. Basically, American universities consider the background of each student during the application process; while in Brazil, universities make choices based only on a test score that reflects the student performance in a two-day test period. This is a simplification that clearly shows a disadvantage.
Another great, positive aspect of higher education in the U.S. is the major/minor system. In Brazil, the curriculum is more inflexible and students must focus on only one diploma. Brazilian students need to make this hardly changeable decision when they are still on high school. It is very hard to change the diploma inside the university, so you are basically attached to a decision made when you did not know much about the world or yourself.
Besides being more flexible to further changes and more open to students will, the American higher education system also helps develop much more interdisciplinary professionals capable of dealing with problems from different perspectives. This kind of skill is something really useful in a globalized world.
A very well-known factor that explains the success of American universities is that they have a very large budget compared to other universities around the globe. On one hand, that is expected to happen, since the U.S. is the richest country in the world. Nonetheless, this is not the only factor.
In Brazil, public universities are free for the undergraduate level. Nobody pays to get their undergraduate degree from public universities in Brazil, which are the best ones in the country. Besides that, neither public or private universities in Brazil get any revenue from sports or selling university apparel. In that way, you can see that American universities are more well-founded by a model perspective, not only by a GDP perspectives.
In Brazil, public universities are free for the undergraduate level. -Azzi and Delfino
It is also interesting to highlight that despite being paid, American universities are still accessible for students that come from poor and middle class families. There are some financial tools that allow that. One of them would be scholarships. Students with great academic achievements or with excellent sport skills will win scholarships, if they need them. Even a "normal" person with no extraordinary skills is able to go to college using student loans. This credit is different from others because there is no interest and the price to pay is not going to change according to the inflation rate.
Moreover, the student only starts to pay after graduation. That's another interesting point when we contrast Brazil and United States. The credit and the interests are really different being smaller on the latter. That's a point is usually related to economy, although it definitely interferes on education.
In Brazil, students can also use loans to pay for college at private universities, but the loans are given by the Federal Government, which uses a bureaucratic process. Hence, not everyone is able to get loans, and it takes more time to get things done.
All in all, it's clear that besides the natural advantage that the U.S. has by being more wealthy than other countries, it has some specific policies and business models that improve higher education.
Brazil is currently the seventh economy of the world. If we intend to go further than that, we must improve our higher education system, using the U.S. system as fountain of inspiration.