Team Investigates Access to Higher Education in Brazil

October 18, 2018

Highlights from the Bass Connections Annual Report


In Brazil, higher education enrollment has nearly tripled since 2000. A strong quota system and government financial support have revolutionized the racial and class composition in the for-profit private sector and the better-quality tuition-free public university system.

Rio de Janeiro’s poor urban periphery – known as the Baixada Fluminense – has the country’s highest concentration of young people. Located in this region, the new Multidisciplinary Institute of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro is a source of hope for this racially and socially stigmatized community. The Cost of Opportunity team began in 2016 in collaboration with faculty, graduate students and undergraduates at the Multidisciplinary Institute.

Through joint fieldwork, the Duke and Brazil team members conducted research directed toward fostering social mobility in the region. They interviewed students and faculty, carried out surveys, led focus groups and produced a 27-minute documentary. The emphasis for the film was on the cost, in many senses of the word, of pursuing higher education on the part of local young people and their parents. Brazilian students have taken up this cause and turned it into a movement in support of greater higher education access.

One of the things that has been the most exciting has been student engagement. This is especially true on the part of the three graduate students who have impacted our research direction. We have also seen involvement from additional departments at Duke. Overall, this project has been a wonderful experience. –John French, Professor of History

Three doctoral dissertations have emerged out of the project, including that of Travis Knoll (Ph.D. in History), who recently received an Andrew Mellon Foundation-funded Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship to support his work.

Undergraduate Chloe Ricks received the 2018 International Comparative Studies Honors Thesis Prize for her work on poverty, racial discrimination and education in the Mississippi Delta and the Baixada Fluminense.

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