Revista Electrónica de Investigación Educativa

Vol. 9, No. 1, 2007

From “Which one Suits you Best?” to
“Which one Can you Afford?”: Inequality
and Social Inequity in the Access to
Higher Education in Mexico1

Nancy Gladys Estrada Peredo   (*)

Manuel De la Paz Ortega   (*)

Manuel Gil Antón   (*)

* Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana

Av. San Rafael Atlixco 186
Col. Vicentina C.P. 09340
Iztapalapa, México D.F., México



This paper presents an analysis of the results of a survey on the best universities for the 2006-2007 years, of 15 different careers in 56 universities of two states of the Mexican Republic, the Distrito Federal (Federal District) and the Estado de Mexico (State of Mexico), published by the Mexican newspaper Reforma. Among the public and private universities, it is sought to respond to the questioning with respect to in what measure the institutions that charge more by attending their classrooms are better situated in the classification presented, and which is the factor of economic accessibility that implies to attend them. A plan of differentiated flows among the passage from the secondary to the higher education is proposed. An internal typology is utilized for the sub-sector of private institutions: demand absorption, intermediate, and elite. Among others results a clear impact of the inequality is emphasized and social inequity in the possibilities of access to private educational institutions. It is notable that the quantities of private institutions that offer programs of high demand in the traditional professions while the public institutions try to reduce their registration in those areas. The alternatives of those who are rejected in the public institutions face the alternatives to truncate their studies or to continue them in private schools of low cost, absorbent of demand, incurring in greater expenses.

Key words: Equal education, universities.



In the month of August, 2006, the “College Students” supplement of the Mexican newspaper Reforma published an article with the title “Which One Suits You Best?” (Survey of the best colleges and universities 2006-2007), one of those now so ubiquitous rankings of 15 degree programs that are offered at 56 universities in Mexico City and the State of Mexico, in Mexico. As it turned out, for many of the programs of study that were analyzed, frequently—though not exclusively—it was the private institutions that took the highest spots in the ranking.

From an analysis of this undertaking, the methodology of which was described in the same supplement, several questions occurred to us. Are these colleges really the “best” as far as their academic quality is concerned and are their study programs really the most promising, as far as future job prospects go?

If, to a great extent, the institutions which charge the most are the ones that are best situated in the ranking, what is the economic accessibility factor implicit in attending one of them?

To what degree does this institutional subgroup—the high cost private institution—really offer superior academic quality? Or does it only, or primarily, reproduce and increase the inequality of prior cultural capital within the highest income sectors of the area in question and, therefore, seem better because of previously existing social relations as well as those that are established within its formal and informal boundaries?

Of these three concerns, we will focus on the second. If, to a great degree, the colleges that charge the most for attending their classes are also the ones with the best ranking, what is the economic accessibility factor implicit in going to one of them?

Equally important is establishing the economic conditions that allow access to such schools. As will be seen in the section on the methodology employed in this study, two steps were taken: the first was to isolate from the list published in the newspaper Reforma the subgroup of private institutions and study, by income group, the feasibility of attending them.

Next, using a list of all the private institutions in Mexico City provided by the National Association of Universities and Institutions of Higher Learning (ANUIES),2 we developed a sample on which to carry out a similar exercise.

Following a cursory review of the various stages in the emergence of private institutions of higher education over the course of the last century and the beginning of the present one—using Daniel Levy’s typology (1986/1995)—we propose a scheme of differentiated flows in the passage from high school to college in order to establish a firm foundation for an analysis of the very different possibilities of access to these institutions, which, naturally, vary significantly with regard to their cost.

We designed a model for performing the calculations and for proposing an internal typology for the subsector of private institutions—demand absorption, intermediate and elite institutions. Subsequently, after presenting the results of this admittedly incipient analysis, the text concludes with a series of sociological reflections and possible public policy actions for the regulation of these institutions, which are already a very relevant part of the system of higher education in the country.


Three waves, three

There is nothing better when considering a complex social process than to have a typology at our disposal. In this vein the teachings of Max Weber (1984) are becoming increasingly transcendent. Daniel Levy (1986/1995), a pioneer in Latin America in the study of private institutions in the tertiary sector of educational systems, describes three phases—which he calls waves—in the emergence and expansion of these centers of higher education. It would be worthwhile to briefly relate his theory here.

The first wave, which in our country occurred in the first half of the twentieth century, arose as a result of the resistance of various social groups that did not share the educational philosophy of the regimes which emerged from the revolution. During those years Article 3 of the Mexican Constitution was modified, declaring that public education would be socialist. For this reason, private institutions were created—or rather the embryos from which they would later emerge—as a reaction against the public monopoly and its ideology. It should be mentioned as well that the affluent classes were strongly connected to this first wave of nongovernmental schools, which sought to produce graduates who shared their values. Thus these institutions are usually oriented toward the economic elites, and were also not exempt, in some cases, from a relation with religious orders. For example, the first private institution of higher education in the secular sphere was the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara (1935) and, in 1943, with Jesuit influence, the Universidad Iberoamericana was founded.

The second wave saw the subsequent emergence of another group of private institutions of higher education which were a result of the social perception that public schools were of poor quality and suffered from political instability. Levy describes this second wave as being a reaction to the perceived failure of public education. It stems not only—and not even mainly—from a real decrease in the quality of public institutions but also from their process of massification. Given a public system that through its growth lessened the distinction between social classes which resulted from the possession of a college degree, the elites endeavored to differentiate themselves, and business groups perceived the advantage of training their future employees and managers at “special” institutions. This wave, of a more economic than ideological nature, continued, mainly, to create high cost educational services accessible only to the most affluent sectors of society and related to the reproduction networks. One such case was Anahuac University, established by the Legionnaires of Christ in 1964, as well as La Salle University, founded in 1960 (both with obvious religious influence). One of the most important private institutions, the Monterrey Institute of Technology (Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey—ITESM), created the same year as the Ibero-American University (Universidad Iberoamericana)—both of which are secular institutions— experienced national growth starting from that period, as did the Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology (Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México—ITAM), founded in 1946.3

The third wave, occurring near the end of the twentieth century and the first years of the twenty—first century, has a distinct orientation.4 It was a consequence of the paucity of supply in the public sector and the high cost of the elite private institutions. The demand for higher education was increasing; if the available spots at public schools—characterized by low or almost nonexistent tuition—were unable to satisfy the demand, and the “unfortunate” who weren’t accepted in them lacked sufficient funds to cover the cost of an elite private institution, ample conditions were created for the appearance of institutions of higher education whose purpose was to absorb the demand not covered by the other two options. Relatively inexpensive, with lax admissions procedures and often without the bare minimum in material and human infrastructure, these private colleges and universities attract the applicants left by the wayside by public institutions who lack the resources to gain access to the private schools created in the two prior waves.

We feel it is important to recognize that how we refer to things, what we call social processes, is not trivial. Frequently, the institutions that emerged from the third wave are disparagingly referred to as “second-rate”. This is not a concept, but an adjective, which in addition overlooks the fact that both the public and elite private sectors are themselves not lacking in areas, and rather large ones at that, where the academic levels are quite low. Would it follow to call them “super second-rate” because of their size? No. The most appropriate course then is to refer to them as precisely what they are: non-elitist demand absorption private institutions of higher education or IESPAD (their acronym in Spanish). In this text, in order to distinguish them from the elite private institutions, we will denominate them with this acronym.5


Diverse flows in the passage to higher education

The passage from high school to college is a complex process academically speaking (Tinto, 1992), as well as economically. It implies a strategic calculation not only of the “cost of opportunity” to study but—for many families—a reflection on the effects which the fees and expenses implied in attending a particular school will have on the family’s economic condition.

It is necessary, albeit schematically and in a “typical” manner, to indicate the possible flows of this transition. We propose six:

1. From elite private elementary and secondary schools to elite private institutions of higher education. In this instance, the central characteristic is the constancy of the family strategy oriented toward the continuous attendance of their offspring at elite schools throughout their academic careers. Because of the frequently high costs at all levels—elementary, secondary and college— this flow is strongly associated with the highest income groups in the country. It is also marked by a distrust of the quality of public institutions and is influenced by the logical need to establish appropriate social networks.
2. From public elementary and secondary schools to public institutions of higher education. Here we are facing a design in the educational path of children which corresponds to a different socioeconomic level, although it may also occur in cases where finances are not the crucial reason for this choice. A preference—for ideological reasons—for the State offered education and a desire to provide youth with a wider perception of the country’s diversity may lead to this educational path.
3. From elite elementary and public secondary schools to public institutions of higher education. This strategy entails betting on the quality of elite elementary schools but changing to public institutions at the secondary level in order to obtain—before college—the benefits of public institutions, whether it be the “automatic passes” from secondary to higher education, or because of a clear preference early on for the scientific and humanistic programs which are not commonly found in private universities.
4. From elite elementary and secondary schools to public institutions of higher education. This course of action may fundamentally be oriented to acquiring a sufficiently “quality” education before college so as to be in good condition for entrance exams to public institutions of higher education. Again, the choice of public institutions of higher education may be for the programs and majors offered or the result of an economic calculation: to proceed from the payment of high fees to the advantage of very low or null tuition and fees at public institutions of higher education
5. From public elementary schools, elite secondary to elite private institutions of higher education. This route is perhaps not very common but it represents a modification of the strategy of attending public elementary schools, after which the children are incorporated into elite secondary institutions, with the intention of then enrolling them in private universities, preferably those chosen by the highest income levels, whether for their supposed quality or for the social relations they provide and the hope of greater opportunities for future employment.
6. From public elementary and secondary schools to an unsuccessful attempt to enter public institutions of higher education. This typical flow is the one that we are interested in exploring further in this article. It appears to us to be one of the most frequent scenarios, unfolding in the following sequence:

  • After attending public schools through the secondary level, an attempt is made to enter a public institution of higher education by taking the entrance exam. The results of the exam prevent the applicant from being accepted at the university, not necessarily because of poor previous academic performance or a deficient exam in absolute terms—number of correct answers in the multiple choice sections—but rather because of a lack of available spots in the school in question. This could result from restricting the number of new students in traditional majors as well as from reserving some of these spots for students with “automatic passes”, thus further reducing the possibilities of admittance. For example, applying for admittance to the schools of law or medicine of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México-UNAM), by presenting the entrance exam extremely reduces the probability of success.
  • After making one or more unsuccessful attempts at admittance into public institutions in the respective locality, the student –lacking the necessary funds for an elite private institution—turns to one of the non—elite demand absorption private institutions of higher education (IESPAD), rather than leave her studies unfinished in spite of the family’s best efforts. Generally, in this type of flow the students are “pioneers”, the first in their families to have the possibility of access to higher education. Consequently, they often aspire to traditional fields of study, those declared meaningless in their spread through public institutions (curiously, these are the same programs offered by elite institutions and IESPAD).
  • After calculating the possibilities of paying for an IESPAD, the student enrolls, giving continuity to his studies.6

The following is the method and model assumptions that were used to determine the economic conditions that allow access to private institutions, when said access corresponds to a prior decision: flows 1, 5 and 6.


Methodology and model constraints for appraising the conditions of access, in relation to the income of the families.

1) For the data derived from the study in the Reforma newspaper supplement. The variables which would allow a comparison of cost between the different options of private education were selected. Out of all the information supplied by the newspaper, the working decision was to focus only on the cost of tuition and registration, without taking into account the cost of exams, admission and graduation fees, as well as additional expenses (food, transportation and other services).

These were placed in a table from lowest cost to highest by institution. Subsequently, the costs were correlated to family income, ranging from salaries of 5 monthly minimum wages (MMW) ($7,398 pesos), to salaries consisting of 25 monthly minimum wages (MMW) ($36,990 pesos).7

In accordance with this correlation, we classified the private institutions in the following way:

  • Demand absorption institutions 1: when only one son or daughter is enrolled without surpassing 25% of the monthly family income, in families with 5 MMW.
  • Demand absorption institutions 2: when only one son or daughter is enrolled without surpassing 25% of the monthly family income, in families with 10 MMW.
  • Institutions of intermediate cost: when a son or daughter is enrolled, with a monthly income of 15 minimum wages, without surpassing 25% of total income.
  • Elite institutions: when, in the abovementioned conditions, the cost for one member of the family does not exceed 25% of monthly income greater than 20 minimum wages.

Thus, the model established for calculating accessibility to different educational modalities, both in the case of the data in the Reforma—provided by the institutions that voluntarily participated in the study—as well as in the sample that we drew up, turns out to be extreme, considering it is based on:

  • only one son or daughter in the family (a very uncommon situation),
  • only the cost of annual tuition and registration fees,
  • net income, that is, having already subtracted taxes, and,
  • a limit of 25 % of family income (a very high proportion allocated to education, taking into account other indispensable needs).

To the extent that conditions become extreme, the effects of scholarships or credit would have a tempering effect and would lessen the inequality of opportunity of access to the different educational modalities.

2) For the data derived from the sample we built. Based on ANUIES’s list of private institutions in Mexico City (122), thirty—nine were randomly selected, some of which coincided with the ones in the Reforma study.

To ascertain the costs, in the case of those which were not already known to us through the information published in the Reforma article, we researched these on the schools’ websites. It the information was not available on the internet we obtained it by telephone.

To the study programs reported on by the Reforma, we added another group of majors that we felt were important, since the newspaper simply focused on those in most demand, a respectable criteria, but not sufficient in our judgment. Families and students may well be interested in degree programs that are not much in demand and which are also offered at private institutions, such as Philosophy or Mechatronics, to name just two.

In the exercise carried out with the sample we considered the following programs: Law, Administration, Accounting, Communication, Psychology, Marketing, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, Economics, Education, Philosophy, Architecture, Graphic Design, Computer Systems Engineering, Civil Engineering and Mechatronic Engineering.

In the sample the range of family income levels was expanded up to 30 MMW, because of the increase in costs reported by the institutions, as well as to accommodate distinctions between economic strata in some very expensive programs.

Table I permits us to appreciate the difference between the programs studied by the newspaper Reforma and those included in our sample.

Table I. Difference in the programs included in the Reforma newspaper
study and those in the sample of the present paper



Having explained the way we carried out the work, we now present the results, first with the data from the newspaper Reforma, and then with the data from the sample of this present study.

In each case—degree program—a table is presented with disaggregated data, followed by a graph which synthesizes them. We feel that it is important that the information on total costs, in minimum monthly wages, of the entire major (which can vary, depending on whether the degree program takes three, four or more years to complete), be visible. Equally significant is the information on the institutions that are accessible to a family that is allocating 25% of its total income—in terms of net income—for college education.

This form of presentation, with tables and graphs, is used both for the data from the newspaper Reforma, as well as with those obtained from the sample. In the Appendix only the tables are shown, without any explanation.

Of the Reforma data, only three programs are presented, explained with the help of a table and figure for each: Administration (Table II and Figure 1), Accounting (Table III and Figure 2) and Law (Table IV and Figure 3).


Considerations on the study from the newspaper Reforma

For families earning five monthly minimum wages, and following the extreme conditions of the model—just one family member in college and considering only the cost of annual registration and tuition—the options for studying Administration are reduced to just three institutions, and all of them are type 1 demand absorption schools. For Accounting and Law there are only four institutions of this type. For families at this income level, the other types of institutions are inaccessible.

Naturally, at the next income level (10 MMW), the same type 1 demand absorption schools are available, but at this level families have the economic conditions to allow them greater access to private institutions. As can be seen in the tables and figures, they have sufficient resources to enroll in type 2 demand absorption institutions, which means they have eight additional options for Administration, nine for Accounting and thirteen for Law. Although the array of options is greater at this level, neither of these two income strata could choose an institution of intermediate cost, much less an elite school.

Starting from a family income of 15 monthly minimum wages ($22,194 pesos),8 it is possible to pay for an institution of intermediate cost. However, in order to clear the hurdle and place a child in an elite institution, 20 MMW are necessary.

The families in our study with the greatest purchasing power—those with an income equivalent to 25 MMW ($36,990 pesos)—9 are able to send their offspring to nine elite institutions to study Administration, six for Accounting and for Law, there are eight high cost options that are accessible.

The results of the sample are presented in tables and graphs with the same theoretical conditions as the abovementioned model. Only seven degree programs are included here: Law (Table V and Figure 4), Administration (Table VI and Figure 5), Accounting (Table VII and Figure 6), Economics (Table VIII and Figure 7), Philosophy (Table IX and Figure 8), Civil Engineering (Table X and Figure 9) and Mechatronics (Table XI and Figure 10).

The rest of the tables (Table XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI) for the sample study can be seen in the Appendix.


Comments on the results of the study

As was the case with the article in the newspaper Reforma, the first three degree programs that were analyzed, Administration, Accounting and Law, have similar distribution proportions, as can be seen in the tables and figures. For these three majors, there are options for private education for all the family income levels that we have been studying. As is to be expected, the institutional options at each level relate to the increase in family income.

In the following four majors, Economics, Philosophy, Civil Engineering and Mechatronic Engineering, as can be seen, there is no option for private education at the lowest income level of five MMW; in other words, in our classification, there are no type 1 demand absorption institutions that offer these degree programs.

In this same group of study programs, families with an income of 10 MMW would not have access to type 2 demand absorption institutions for three of the four majors. Only in the case of the B.A. in Economics are there two institutions with the possibility of access.

At the next income level of the classification, families with 15 MMW expand their possibilities of access to institutions of intermediate cost. The range of possibilities for studying Economics includes four institutions, for Philosophy two, Civil Engineering one and for Mechatronic Engineering there are no options.

Starting from income levels of 20 MMW (29,592 pesos),10 access to institutions classified as elite becomes possible. In the case of the B.A. in Economics, there are five institutions of this type that are accessible; in Philosophy only two; Civil Engineering has just one option and for those that hope to study Mechatronic Engineering there are no options for them at this family income level.

Given our model, families with between 25 and 30 MMW can more comfortably aspire to elite institutions. At this income level the options for studying any of these degree programs are greater, as the charts show. Economics has nine options for these two income levels. In Philosophy, the first of these two income levels (25 MMW) has access to three such elite institutions and, with 30 MMW, there is one more option. Likewise, for Civil Engineering, there is one more option for the highest income level than for the level immediately preceding it.

Unlike the other three degree programs, only families with incomes of 25 MMW or more can hope to have one of their children study Mechatronic Engineering, since they have the means to pay for two of the elite private institutions in the model. As can be seen in the figure, those with 30 MMW have the financial ability to cover the costs in three institutions.


Questions and general reflection

The exercise that we have carried out focuses on economic access to private institutions, an issue which, in our opinion, has not been studied in sufficient depth. We perceive here a topic for exploration with diverse and important ramifications.

It is necessary to acknowledge the initial character of this effort, and we are also open to criticism on the part of our readers. We will therefore close with some general considerations that, having concluded the study, are inescapable.

Clearly, social inequality—and inequity—have an impact on a high school graduate’s possibilities of access to private institutions of higher education when the student is unable to pursue his or her education in a public institution for lack of space. This is the type of flow which is of most interest in our study, since the others—from private elementary and secondary schools to institutions of higher education of the same type and the other ones previously described—have a logic of their own. As we have seen, as a family’s purchasing power grows, its possibilities of access to a wider number of private institutions increase.

Does inequality of access for economic reasons have an impact—and in what way—on the “real” value of academic degrees (the solid knowledge which they back up)? If so, is it a matter not of distinction based on acquired knowledge, but on social relationships and prior cultural capital? Furthermore, would this distinction not then be increased throughout the years of study in elite institutions, as compared with those of demand absorption? Are we confronting observable qualitative differences in the value of the academic careers at different types of institutions, or are we confronting processes that are the outcome of a social perception that associates, without any proof, cost with quality? The market exchange value of different diplomas is radical –you are hired or not depending on the college you graduated from. Or is each one finding a niche in the diversity of occupational markets in the country, even though the compensation and salaries cannot be compared? These questions call for deeper examination, something beyond simple common sense, which, for lack of more precise studies, is what tends to pass for an answer.

At the same time, it is remarkable the numbers of private institutions offering programs that are in high demand in the traditional professions, in contrast with the attempts by public universities to reduce enrollment in these same fields and their applications. Thousands of students, in spite of being turned down by public institutions, “vote with their feet” and look for a place to continue their studies according to their economic capacity.

Today, the percent of the population with an income equivalent to 5, 10 or 15 MMW has achieved, in relative terms, an income that we could call middle class or verging on upper class, particularly when referring to a nuclear family. It is highly unlikely that in such a family there would be only one child studying at some level of the educational system. At the same time 25% is a very high proportion of income to allocate for education, compared with other essential expenses. Finally, the costs associated with studying, above and beyond registration and tuition, such as food, transportation to school, books and other materials—to which we must add the cost of opportunity—make the burden of enrolling and supporting a son or daughter in a private institution much heavier. If there is no scholarship, it is unlikely that the children’s studies can be sustained, unless the family makes a disproportionate effort, resorts to loans or develops a strategy based on the extended family. Even then, the cost associated with ensuring the continuity of studies is very high.

In future studies it would be useful—if the information is available—to divide the students in type 1 and 2 demand absorption schools into two large groups: 1) dependent children, that is, those whose higher education is paid for by the family with no contribution made by the student (who doesn’t work) and who is of “typical” college age and 2) students who—whether or not they are part of a nuclear family—work as well as study and may not be in the typical age range for an undergraduate student. One clue that this line of research may be promising is that this type of institution typically offers schedules that are convenient for working people, an advantage which is curiously rare in public institutions and at elite and intermediate cost private colleges.

This analysis takes us to an unavoidable conclusion: aspiring college students with limited means who do not enter public institutions—which operate with very low, or almost nonexistent tuition fees—have before them two options: cut short their studies or continue in low cost demand absorption private colleges. Although the costs at these schools are low in comparison with intermediate or elite institutions, they are generally much higher (at least in the Mexico City metropolitan area) than public universities. Consequently, applicants who are turned down by public institutions, who tend to be of lower socioeconomic and cultural origins, are impelled—they have no other choice if they want to continue studying—to incur greater expense. This situation is not compatible with fair treatment; on the contrary, it actually contributes to worsening the inequality. The lack of sufficient growth in the public offering of higher education, planned with intelligence and social sensitivity, is the causal factor of this regressive phenomenon in terms of equality.

Those who have had the least opportunities and possess the resources for studying at publicly financed institutions but are turned down because of a lack of space, in order to continue their studies, have only the option of paying much more than those who are accepted. Here, then, we have the Matthew effect of which Merton (1985) spoke: he who has the most will be given more, and as for he who has the least, even the little that he has will be taken from him (or at least put at risk). The reduction in the public offering of higher education in relative terms has propelled the growth of innumerable demand absorption institutions which are regulated by the market, which then, with its invisible hand, accommodates things accordingly. Actually, the hand is more than evident and the accommodation that it achieves is functional but far removed from justice and the value of equal opportunity. Is this a coherent attitude on the part of a State that never tires of proclaiming in its speeches the importance of higher education for the future of the country? Not only does this leave room for doubt, the contradiction between words and actions is crystal clear. And these “savings” in public investment are accompanied by the lack of a system for granting operating licenses to private institutions of higher education, both universities and other types of schools, whether high cost or “cheap”. This situation tends to strengthen the hypothesis of the abandonment by the State—or, at the very least, a sharp curtailment—of its responsibility, with all its implications.

While the study was underway, demand absorption institutions were offering, both in their conventional ads as well as on the internet, “frozen tuition fees”.11 In many cases, this was found not to be true. There are significant increases throughout the course of study. If the student cannot pay—in spite of demanding that the institution fulfill its initial promise—the reprisals are severe: the student is denied the possibility of continuing with his studies. Is anyone responsible for regulating this essentially commercial aspect of private education, the fulfillment of marketing claims?

It has been said, with good reason, that there is a need for an accreditation system for all types of institutions, especially the demand absorption schools. However, there is also a need for supervision of their contractual obligations towards their customers—throughout the private sector—coupled with oversight to ensure their compliance with their tax obligations, and legal treatment of their employees and academics. Their financial health also needs to be monitored, because they are providing a service for the public good, as can be seen in the following case. A few days ago, the New World University closed its doors and ceased to offer its services because the owner owed several million pesos in rent for the premises where the school was located and he lost the case in court. Who safeguards the interests of the students involved in this private business? The same applies to the granting of accreditation (Official Recognition of Validity of Studies or RVOE, its acronym in Spanish)—which so far has been very lax.

Without doubt, there are many more questions and relevant issues which might occur to the reader. Hopefully our study has elicited some. It would also be interesting if this kind of approach could be replicated in other areas of Mexico, following this model or any other that proves better than the one we adopted. We would all learn.

We have taken care not to refer to the quality of education in the private institutions; such an appraisal is not the subject of this article. Rather we focused on the dimension of accessibility in relation to family income.

It would seem, if you study any social problem in the country, whether educational or not, that underneath there lies a common denominator: the inequality of opportunities, the separation of the country into the included and the excluded, the disparity of efforts that, in certain instances, lays a heavier burden on those who are least able to bear it. If that is the case, as one of our classic writers would say, “we live in a country without honor”.



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Translator: Jeanne Eileen Soennichsen

1This paper was developed in the context of the Social Service Project “The academic profession in Mexico in a comparative international context” in the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities of the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa (Autonomous Metropolitan University, Iztapalapa Campus). The Social Service Project Coordinator, Manuel Gil-Antón, is full professor in the Sociology Department, and was a participant in the New Century Scholars Program, sponsored by the Fulbright Program (2005-2006), dedicated to studying the impact of globalization in 30 countries. This paper is included in the results of said program. All three authors contributed to the design of the paper and collaborated on the different stages of the research. The order of the coauthors’ names was determined in order to counter the usual arrangement—in which the researcher with the greatest experience appears as the first author—since an analysis of the burden of responsibility and actual work done revealed that Estrada and De la Paz had performed outstanding work that in all fairness should be recognized. (Manuel Gil- Antón).

2This list can be found on the web page of the National Association of Universities and Institutions of Higher Learning (Asociación Nacional de Universidades e Instituciones de Educación Superior de México (ANUIES):

3Located on page 253 of Levy’s text in Spanish is Table 1, which summarizes the dates of the founding of these institutions (waves 1 and 2) and the distinctive cause of their growth.

4Given the original publishing date of Levy’s text, this third wave could only be glimpsed as a possibility in Mexico at that time, while in other countries, like Brazil, it was already a reality.

5Later, in the section on the method used in this article, we will argue that it is necessary to add a subgroup of intermediate—as regards their costs—private institutions between the elite institutions and the demand absorption schools. These last are in turn divided into what we call demand absorption 1 and demand absorption 2. We emphasize that the classification is centered on the variable of cost and accessibility, and is not an attempt to rate the quality of the services or facilities of an institution, which is an issue which should be addressed through other avenues of inquiry. This topic is discussed in Gil-Antón (2005).

6An example of an analysis of this type of flow can be found in the Journal of Higher Education of the ANUIES, in the articles of: Gil-Antón (2005), Fernández, Eusebio (2005) and Wieste de Vries (2005). The complete texts can be consulted on line: (to access the Journal, from the main page enter the section titled “Servicios” and then, “Biblioteca digital”). This subject is also addressed in the chapter by Gil-Antón (2007), and in Rollin Kent (2004).

7The columns on the right side of the table contain the values that correspond to 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 MMW respectively. A monthly minimum wage (MMW)—$1,479.6 pesos (MEX)—is equivalent to 134.50 dollars (at 11 pesos to the dollar, the average exchange rate in May 2007). Therefore, 7,398 pesos (5 MMW) are equivalent to 672.50 dollars (US) and 36,990 pesos (25 MMW) are 3,362 dollars (US).

822,194 pesos (MEX) are equivalent to 2,017.63 (US) dollars (as of May 2007).

936,990 pesos (MEX) are equivalent to 3,362 (US) dollars (as of May 2007).

1029,592 pesos (MEX) are equivalent to 2,690.18 (US) dollars (as of May 2007).

11That is to say, a monthly tuition payment which does not increase throughout the entire duration of the degree program.

Please cite the source as:

Estrada, N. G., De la Paz, M. & Gil Antón, M. (2007). From “which one suits you best?” to “which one can you afford?”: Inequality and social inequity in the access to higher education in Mexico. Revista Electrónica de Investigación Educativa, 9 (1). Retrieved month day, year, from:


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