New US student exchange aims to double college-level exchange students to, from Latin America

WASHINGTON – The newest U.S. educational exchange initiative was the focus of this month’s CCLP Communications Leadership Forum here. Called “100,000 Strong in the Americas”, the public-private partnership will try to nearly double the number of college students going between U.S. and Latin American colleges and universities.


Citing what he termed “an East-West bias,” Daniel Restrepo, former Special Assistant to President Obama for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said it seems that U.S. study abroad programs focus almost exclusively on Europe.

“What is really missing in that [study abroad] equation is North-South,” he explained.

Currently 47,000 American students go to Latin America each year, according to Maggie Hug, the State Department’s Coordinator for the 100,000 Strong program, and 73,000 Latin American students come to U.S. colleges and universities. The goal of the program is to increase those numbers so more than 100,000 students are going in each direction each year.

The countries with some of the largest student delegations, she said, are Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Costa Rica.

Begun just last year, the initiative already counts as members 1,200 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Latin America, and 38 grants have been made in five competitive rounds, according to Matt Clausen, Vice President and Senior Director of the 100,000 Strong Innovation Fund. The sixth round is now under way.

With funding from companies including ExxonMobil and Coca-Cola, these grants are small: the total awarded in all five rounds to date is less than $5 million.

“These are small institutional grants to change the way they are working on student mobility on all levels,” Clausen said.


Left to right: Matt Clausen, Daniel Restrepo, and Margaret Hug, Coordinator at 100,000 Strong in the Americas, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA/PDA).

And changing the way colleges and universities work in the partnership may involve fundamental changes in the way everyone, on both sides of the partnerships, perceives each other and their relationships.

“Shifting from ownership mentality to partnership mentality is not an easy thing [for the U.S.],” explained Restrepo. “It’s hard for the region [Latin America], too.”

He added that Americans are often all too willing to step in and initiate programs without listening to partners. And in many cases, Latin Americas partners are all too willing to let the U.S. initiate programs without their input.

Large U.S. universities are among the 2014 grant recipients, including Arizona State and Northwestern. But future grant rounds, Restrepo said, will focus on U.S. community colleges and on Hispanic-serving institutions.

This CCLP Washington Communication Leadership program was part of a monthly series of lunch forums presented in partnership with the USC Center on Public Diplomacy and the Public Diplomacy Council.