Weekly Chart: Higher Education and Its Return on Investment in Latin America

By Elizabeth Gonzalez

Graduates with a higher-education degree make 104 percent more than those with high school diplomas.

Even in an increasingly machine-driven world, human capital is a crucial cog in the engine of any economy. The lack of it is a critical problem for Latin America, which has the highest skills shortage, per the World Economic Forum. Moreover, 50 percent of Latin American firms say they can’t find the skilled labor they need versus 36 percent of firms among OECD countries. Though countries like Mexico may graduate more engineers than Germany, for example, every year it gives up a portion of these professionals to U.S. visa programs, aggravating existing domestic shortages. (In 2016, 2,500 professionals were working in the United States with H-1B visas.)

The good news is enrollment for higher-education degrees among 18- to 24-year-olds has doubled in Latin America, jumping from 21 percent in 2000 to 43 percent in 2013. That’s the largest regional improvement worldwide, though the graduation rate is still only 50 percent. And that can mean better wages: on average, Latin American higher-education graduates will make 104 percent more on a monthly basis than if they just had a high school degree. That payoff is higher in Latin American and the Caribbean than it is in the rest of the developed world, according to a 2017 World Bank report, At a Crossroads: Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean

AS/COA Online scopes in on the report for a closer look at the most popular degrees across countries in the region and their respective returns on investment.