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Last Published: 8/1/2017
U.S. colleges and universities remain the preferred overseas destination for Colombian students, despite significant competition from other countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, France and Argentina. There are several factors that make the United States a leading destination, chief among them higher employment opportunities after graduation, the high quality of education, the chance to improve English skills, and a renewed push by the Government of Colombia to encourage English bilingualism. Furthermore, Colombian businesses are increasing their presence and operations in the United States and bolstering the need not just for English speakers, but for Colombians with actual living experience in the United States and knowledge of U.S. business practices and American culture in general. The preferred states for Colombian students are California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Illinois and Florida. The fields of studies in most demand are those focused on business administration, management, finance, banking, marketing, and engineering.

According to the Institute of International Education, Colombia is ranked 23rd in the world and third among South American Countries (after Brazil and Venezuela) in sending students to the United States. As the peace process solidifies in Colombia and the country becomes more stable and prosperous, the United States is in a good position to see a potential increase in Colombian students.

Leading Sub-Sectors
Colombia-U.S. Student Travel Data
Number of Colombian Students7,0837,1697,815
% Change from Previous Year8.31.29.0
There were 7,815 Colombians who traveled to the United States to study in academic year 2015/16, a nine percent increase over the previous year. Colombian students in the U.S. are divided between graduate and undergraduate levels as follows:

Colombian Postsecondary Students in the U.S. by Education Level
Education LevelPercent of Total Colombian Students in the U.S.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)12%
Based on data from the Institute of International Education, Colombian students in U.S. colleges and universities contributed USD 251 million to the U.S. economy in the 2015/16 academic year.

The U.S. Embassy in Bogotá supports efforts to increase the number of Colombian students studying in the United States by supporting technology projects such as Ed, a 24/7 virtual adviser in Spanish, and various micro scholarships for English Language studies.  

Additionally, the “100,000 Strong in the Americas” innovation fund seeks to increase the number of Latin American students studying in the United States and the number of U.S. students studying in Latin America. Partnerships between universities in the United States and higher education institutions in the Western Hemisphere are increasing the student exchange opportunities and strengthening regional education cooperation throughout the Americas.

Under government-to-government or private agreements, both public and private universities in Colombia have developed partnerships with universities in the United States, Europe and Latin America. Priority is given to post-graduate programs for training professors as well as research to enhance teaching.

The U.S. Commercial Service, in cooperation with Education USA offices in Colombia, supports various education fairs that include the participation of U.S. boarding schools, universities and ESL institutions, in order to promote their programs in Colombia.

With the global job market becoming increasingly competitive, the number of Colombian undergraduate and graduate students in the United States has being growing over the past four academic years. This is partially due to the fact that in Colombia it is difficult to obtain a high level position within the government or an important national or multinational company without proficient English skills and/or a master’s degree. Moreover, a degree from a U.S. university can make job applicants that much more competitive in the Colombian workplace.

Most scholarships are awarded through two institutions, one of which is the Colombian Institute for Educational Loans and Technical Studies Abroad (ICETEX by its initials in Spanish), which is dedicated to financing higher education through a system of financial aid that allows students to start or continue their higher education either in country or abroad. In 2016 ICETEX awarded 249 scholarships for master’s degrees, PhD, and ESL programs in the U.S. The second institution is the Foundation for the Future of Colombia (COLFUTURO), a non-profit organization that provides funds to Colombian professionals and students to study abroad. Their loan program is available to students who have been accepted to graduate programs at foreign universities. During 2016 COLFUTURO awarded 1,258 scholarships for masters and PhD programs. 267 of those scholarships were for programs in the United States.

COLFUTURO has agreements with many universities, such as:  Carnegie Mellon, Columbia University, Duke, Cornell, University of Florida, American University, Purdue University, Tulane University, New York University and Harvard University, among others.

Although the relatively weak Colombian currency was a factor for Colombian Students who wanted to study in the United States in 2016, demand and interest remain strong. International education is highly valued in the Colombian workplace and a recent survey of employers found that 58 percent preferred to hire people who had earned advanced degrees abroad.
For U.S. schools and ESL institutions, private and bilingual schools in Colombia offer good recruiting opportunities. Schools are interested in sending groups to study in U.S. schools for periods that may vary between three weeks and three to four months. The goal of these short term programs is mainly to acquire and improve English skills.

Today, only 9,000 high school graduates have an intermediate level of English. Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos recently launched a program called “Colombia Very Well,” with the intention of promoting bilingualism in Colombia. The government’s goal is to increase the number of high school graduates with an intermediate level of English to 185,000 in 10 years. This will open opportunities for U.S. English language institutions to enter or increase their presence in Colombia.
At the higher education level, private universities also offer important recruitment opportunities for undergraduate and postgraduate programs. U.S. universities should make initial contact with the office of foreign relations in each university in order to introduce the university, its programs and its areas of specialization.

Colombian universities are interested in having agreements with U.S. universities that offer dual degree programs for their students. This can be accomplished through a combination of two or three years at the local university and one or two years at the U.S. University.
Beyond the economic implications, the availability of educational services carries even greater significance in terms of improving general living conditions in Colombia. A well-educated Colombian population is vital to the country’s economic growth and global competitiveness over the long term. U.S. educational services will also expose more Colombians to American culture, further strengthening ties between the two countries.
There are concrete opportunities to increase the number of Colombian students attending U.S. universities. Those wishing to attract Colombian students should consider actively increasing recruitment campaigns in order to raise their visibility. Financial aid/scholarship opportunities and information on the process to obtain a U.S. student visa are essential topics for U.S. educational institutions when promoting themselves in Colombia.
In Colombia, there is a strong network of 11 Education USA centers administering language programs and doing extensive outreach around the country. Education USA centers are located at nine binational centers, the Fulbright commission, and COLFUTURO.
Education Fairs and Trade Shows
Education fairs are one of the most efficient ways to recruit Colombian students. Colombia has a few education fairs throughout the year. Additionally, Education USA organizes one of the best fairs to promote U.S. Education. This year’s fair in Colombia will take place in September in Bogotá. Universities interested in participating and exhibiting at the fairs should visit the Education USA’s website.

Web Resources
Julio Acero
U.S. Commercial Service Bogotá
Phone:  571-275-2635

Key Contacts
Colombia Ministry of Education
Colombian Institute for Educational Loans and Technical Studies Abroad (ICETEX)
Education USA
Foundation for the Future of Colombia (COLFUTURO)
Institute of International Education

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Colombia Education Trade Development and Promotion