Why Brazilians want to study in the U.S.

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Brazilian students appear more interested than ever in attending graduate school in the United States.


According to a recent survey of 300 universities that belong to the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), applications from Brazilian students increased by 61 percent this year to 5,939 and acceptances jumped by 98 percent to 1,983.

A separate report from the Institute of International Education (IIE) confirms the findings. The IIE report shows that some 3,000 Brazilians enrolled in U.S. graduate programs last year, part of a cohort of 10,868 Brazilian students attending higher education programs in the U.S. — up 20 percent from last year.

Overall, Brazilian students make up just a fraction of international graduate students enrolled in U.S. programs. Most foreign students come from China and India. Brazilians, however, are gaining ground.

Jeff Allum, author of the CGS report, thinks the increased enrollment of Brazilians has to do with the Scientific Mobility Program — a scholarship fund created by the Brazilian government in 2011 to send more students abroad, particularly to study science, technology, engineering and math. Approximately 560 Brazilian students will enroll in graduate programs in the U.S. this year, according to the IIE, which administers the program on behalf of the Brazilian government. It is the first year the program has included graduate students.

"[W]e have already seen a ripple effect of increased interest among students from Brazil in coming to the United States to study not just those on the government scholarship program," IIE spokeswoman Maria Baum wrote in an email.

Brazil's new middle class, which grew by 50 percent between 2003 and 2009, has generated a new demand for skilled labor. The country has struggled to meet that demand, partially because of what scholars say is an historic under-investment in higher education.


Brazil has pledged to nearly double the percentage of young people enrolled in university-level programs to 33 percent by 2020. While the South American country tries to improve its higher education system, many Brazilian students look to the U.S. for courses in science and engineering. And many can afford to pay the full price of tuition, which makes them attractive applicants to U.S. schools who have been hit hard by funding cuts at the state level.

In some instances, exchange students pay additional "international" fees that help schools — such as the University of Washington —keep their tuition costs down for in-state students. Still, the move has ruffled the feathers of some in-state students who say admitting more foreign students is limiting enrollment space for them.


U.S. graduate schools have stepped up efforts in recent years to recruit international students who are willing to pay full tuition. As the Hechinger Report noted, more than 80 percent of international students reportedly pay full price for school, far higher than the percentage of U.S. students. International students now make up about 15 percent of U.S. graduate programs.

The Obama administration has been open about wanting to ramp up exchange programs with places like Africa, Asia and Latin American. The White House recently proposed cutting funding for the prestigious Fulbright Program, which has traditionally been Eurocentric, and using the money to support the effort.


In 2012, U.S. Commerce Undersecretary Francisco Sanchez led a group of more than 60 U.S. college officials on a tour of three major Brazilian cities. Sanchez told Reuters at the time that it was the Obama administration's biggest trade mission to date.

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.