Monday, October 12, 2009

The People We Meet: Marsela

We met Marsela at Hostel San Jorge. She keeps the hostel clean as a whistle. Marsela is 16 years old. She works at the Hostel from sunrise until sunset, then walks through the market to her mother's vegetable stand. She spends another hour or so chopping up the extra vegetables that were not sold. Later, those vegetables will end up in pickled salads and stews. I detailed an idea to join Marsela and her mother for an evening's work in the "Preliminary Appointments" post. I would like to ask her mother if she would be interested in participating in our potential project: Ceña con las Madres, or if she knows of any other women in her community that would be interested in becoming involved.
As for Marsela, I would like to learn more about her dreams of attending the Public University in Managua. Nicaragua's Public University is called Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (UNAN). UNAN offers a substantially more affordable education than many private colleges in Nicaragua. However, this Public University is very difficult to attend. In a nutshell, one either has to graduate high school with perfect grades and high class rank or know people who have connections within the system to get it.
Fortunately for Marsela, her grades have always been excellent. She is confident that she will win admission to UNAN. The problem that remains is the cost: although it is a Public University, it still costs more than the average Nicaraguan has to offer. To accommodate the modest means of many college students, many colleges in Nicaragua offer weekend classes so students can still work . The most common schedule for a typical student would be to work six days a week then attend classes on either Saturday or Sunday from 8 to 12am then 1 to 6pm. Without this arrangement, most Nicaraguan college students could not afford higher education.
One large difference that I see between higher education in Nicaragua and in the US is that students in Nicaragua must work to attend College-University on the side as compared to students from the US who attend College-University and maybe work on the side.
Marsela would like to join UNAN's specialized program for tourism. She told me that this program is far more expensive than the other degrees offered at UNAN. The program would last 5 years and cost Marsela 80 dollars a month plus transportation and books. By comparison, a standard degree at the UNAN costs each student around 80 dollars per 10 months! As Marsela informed me, "que vale la peña" (It is well worth it) because evidently a tourism degree from the UNAN makes one far more likely to land a decent job.
I would like to learn more about how and where the tuition fees are spent within UNAN, especially those fees that make the tourism program significantly more expensive than any other. If the tuition fees are directly returned to the students through program development and job placement, I could understand them. If the short-terms costs of higher tuition fees strengthen the tourism industry in Nicaragua, then future graduates from the tourism program will reap the long-term benefits of numerous job opportunities.

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