At age 18, just after graduating from high school, Lina Riascos left her hometown with only the clothes on her back. She grew up on Colombia’s Pacific coast, in a fishing village torn by the country’s half-century-long armed conflict. Violence was a fact of life.
“It was normal to hear of someone being killed,” she said. “People would leave their land and not look back. I didn’t see a future there.”
Riascos moved to Colombia’s capital, Bogota, in search of a better life. She worked two jobs and, on a friend’s recommendation, enrolled in Uniminuto—a pioneering private university recognized for its low-cost, job-focused education programs.
In Colombia, where more than three generations of citizens have been affected by war, a recent peace deal offers new opportunities—especially for those with a college degree. But access to higher education has traditionally been limited, and demand outpaces supply. More than 3 million high-school graduates are unable to continue their education in a college or university program—a significant obstacle to gaining the skills they need to join the workforce.
Private education can play an important role in increasing access to university education and vocational training, especially for working adults. Higher education helps raise productivity and incomes, and contributes to reducing social inequality.
At Uniminuto, a long-time IFC client, 98 percent of students come from low-income families. Like Riascos, many are the first in their families to attend university. Female students make up 71 percent of the student body.
“Uniminuto has opened many doors for me,” Riascos said. “It was the first step to becoming a professional.” She’s now in her third year, studying social work with a scholarship from Uniminuto that covers half of her tuition and a part-time job on campus.
More than 80 percent of Uniminuto’s students find jobs within six months of graduation. The university’s job-placement results reflect a close partnership between administrators, businesses, and the government to ensure that students gain marketable skills that meet employers’ needs. This career-centered approach is crucial in a country where half of all employers report difficulty in filling jobs—often because of a lack of candidates with the necessary skills or experience.
That’s why more than half of Uniminuto’s programs are vocationally focused and centered on key economic sectors—including agribusiness, hotel management, construction, web design, and occupational health. Uniminuto complements classroom lectures with on-the-job training to bridge the skills gap, and facilitates employment when students graduate.
Ruth Pulido works in human resources at Grupo Exito, a leading South American retail company in Bogota that has offered summer internships to about 2,000 Uniminuto students and helped place 150 graduates in full-time jobs across Colombia. “They take advantage of the opportunities that are given to them,” Pulido said. “They want to have a career and to improve every day.”
IFC played a catalytic role in the rapid growth of Uniminuto in 2009 with an $8-million loan that helped it expand infrastructure, upgrade technology, and improve its long-term financial strategy. Today its campuses and distance-learning programs reach 130,000 students with nine campuses and over 85 locations nationwide—stretching even to remote Amazon villages. Thanks to its “bricks and clicks” approach to higher education, Uniminuto is now the largest university in Colombia.
Uniminuto is now planning to replicate its educational model in Africa, starting with programs in Côte d’Ivoire and Benin. As for Riascos, she believes that gaining access to a career-oriented degree program forever changed her life. She hopes one day to return to her hometown and start a foundation for high-school students who are seeking to improve their lives—following Uniminuto’s model.
“The vision I have is to work with kids and youth,” she said. “If I had the opportunity, why not others?”
This story is also available in Spanish
For more information: Uniminuto case study: Education within reach of all.
To learn more about IFC’s work in education, visit www.ifc.org/education.
Published in April 2017