Argentina faces the same challenge many face worldwide of providing more higher education with fewer resources. Argentine education officials who had visited California's CSU system and were impressed with it as a potential model, requested that a CSU system expert be identified as the U.S. representative. Esteban, one of four Spanish-speaking presidents in the CSU system, was chosen as a leader for his keen understanding and articulation of issues facing higher education and his success at creating alternative sources of revenue for CSU, Chico.
Carmen Aponte, the USIA coordinator of the conference, provided background to Esteban of the history of government support for public higher education in Argentina: In 1918, student demonstrations at the National University of Cordoba produced reforms that have influenced university policy ever since. These reforms included university autonomy; co-government by students, faculty, and administration; open admissions; and free tuition. Although there was a seven-year period during one of the military dictatorships when stiff entrance exams replace unrestricted admission, in 1983, President Alfonsin reinstated open admissions. As a result, enrollment at the University of Buenos Aires grew from 60,000 in 1983 to 170,000 by 1993.
According to Aponte, despite resource shortages, overcrowding, low faculty salaries, and politicization, public universities, which are centralized in the Argentine federal government, are still considered to be more rigorous and prestigious than private universities. However, private universities have increasingly became an attractive alternative for many students, especially those from middle and upper income brackets. Today, Argentina has thirty-six public universities with 730,000 students and forty private universities with 125,000 students. "While clearly needed," wrote Aponte to Esteban, "higher education reform is politically sensitive and highly controversial in Argentina, where free and open access to national universities is regarded as a birthright."
In an effort to tap foreign expertise in funding strategies for higher education, the secretariat of University Policies of the Ministry of Culture and Education in Buenos Aires held the conference. The United States, France, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Uruguay, Brazil, and Chile were invited to send representatives to the higher education financing conference.
Although the international experts were asked to deal with a wide range of topics, Esteban focused primarily on diverse sources of revenue and on the necessity of having a long-range plan. He presented the strategic planning process that the CSU system undertook. The audience was extremely interested in the multi-leveled input the process allowed. Esteban pointed out, however, that the huge size of Argentine institutions would make it difficult to transfer the process directly. "However it is accomplished, it is important to have a clear mission," said Esteban. "If you do, you can reduce activities that are peripheral to the mission and concentrate resources where they will do most to move you toward your goals."
Esteban explained that the strategic plan that results from such a planning process allows the institution to send clear messages to both internal and external constituencies. A strategic plan states the goals of the campus, documents internal allocations for goal-oriented activities, and clearly communicates to the public how funds are being used in effective ways to accomplish public education goals.
Esteban also discussed diverse sources of revenue for higher education.
Our development of distance education, beginning in the `70s, was a direct response to the need of the corporate world for training and certification. Our programs in computer science, for example, are now offered in seventeen different states at thirty-four different sites. We have several corporate partners and clients in this endeavor. Our federal tax structure rewards companies for their charitable contributions and makes it possible and desirable for us. As Argentina does not have such a tax structure, the concept is new to them.
Chico State is one of the system leaders in developing partnerships which have provided needed resources in the form of money, equipment, and opportunities for our students. From the partnership with the City of Chico which will result in a much needed soccer stadium to the partnership between the College of Business and SAP International, a business systems software company, we have enthusiastically pursued this type of cooperation.
We have become much more aggressive in our pursuit of grants and contracts. Agencies which have lost revenue in the last several years often outsource work to educational institutions and research groups. In five years, our grants and contracts have grown from $19 million in revenue to $25 million. The positive educational and career-related benefits to both faculty and students are enormous.
Another alternate source of revenue we take for granted, but is largely untapped in Latin America, is our private fund raising and charitable giving programs.
While conference participants were very interested in this source, basic changes in their tax structures are needed to encourage this kind of giving.
Esteban reported that members of the Ministry of Education expressed gratitude for the very concrete and practical information he provided on alternate financing. The conference experience provided Esteban with a wealth of information about Latin American education: "Their dilemmas are not unlike what we deal with, perhaps on a different scale. I was moved by the level of commitment the Latin American educators expressed. These are people who want to find solutions to problems; who want to do the best job they can of providing quality education to an unbelievably large number of students with many fewer resources than we can imagine. It made me very appreciative of what we have to work with and how good our system is."