Brazil welcomes for-profit schools as aspiring professionals seek skills

A growing number of Brazilians are willing to pay to get an education, and for-profit schools, both local and international, are rushing to oblige them. Education in Latin America's largest economy has long been a problem. According to a 2009 United Nations study, the country produced only 428 college graduates per 100,000 inhabitants. Most of the best universities in Brazil are state-owned and charge no tuition. Other nonprofits charge steep fees but offer high quality. But in both cases, the best colleges are usually out of reach for lower-income students, who get their earlier education in public schools and are ill prepared for tough college -admission tests. The gaps in public education, combined with growing demand for skilled labor, have created an opportunity for nonpublic institutions to recruit aspiring young professionals who can't get into top colleges but can pay to improve their career prospects. Critics warn that quality may be at risk, and the Education Ministry has shut down some private, for-profit schools following low results in standardized tests. But advocates say the private schools can help to generate skilled labor and increase jobs for low-income Brazilians. Similar dynamics are at play elsewhere in Latin America. Such countries as Colombia, Mexico and Argentina are also seeing growing demand for highly educated workers. But nowhere is the market as bullish as in Brazil. Brazil has an “overflow of demand” for higher education, said Bob Wettenhall, an analyst of for-profit U.S. education providers for RBC Capital Markets. He sees a growing interest among the sector's players in expanding into Brazil's fast-growing market.

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