The Cost of Opportunity? Higher Education in the Baixada Fluminense (2016-2017)


Brazil in the early 21st century faces challenges of great magnitude, and the expanded system of federal universities is expected to play a fundamental role in confronting them. The hopeful vision of a better future, with development and social justice, draws sustenance from a successful process of democratization since 1985, important economic advances and the positive impact of redistributive public policies. Yet existing pessimism and frustrations are more than justified by the persistence of social and racial inequalities, inefficient administration and concerns about environmental sustainability. Moreover, Brazil is passing through an accelerated demographic transition. The future of the country, to a great extent, depends on the degree of access to and quality of education.

Both the potential and obstacles ahead are particularly acute in the region known as the Baixada Fluminense on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. With four million inhabitants, the Baixada has one of the highest concentrations of young people in Brazil. It is routinely stigmatized both socially and racially.

Project Description

This project team will work collaboratively with faculty, graduate students and undergraduates at the Multidisciplinary Institute of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (IM/UFRRJ) in Novo Iguaçu, a county of 829,000 people in the Baixada region on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. The collaborative team will develop data, ideas and methods for Duke Brazil Initiative/Global Brazil Humanities Lab Signature Projects that will be pitched to funding agencies in the fall of 2017.

The Baixada focus in this project is designed to develop better tools to understand the enhanced social mobility made possible by the implantation of a unit of the expanding Federal University system in Novo Iguaçu in 2006. This was the first-ever investment by the central government to address the demand for tuition-free higher education in the Baixada as part of the inclusionary policies of center-left presidential administrations since 2002. Enrollment in higher education in Brazil has tripled in the last decade; three quarters of this growth has taken place in tuition-charging private institutions, whose racial and class composition was unrepresentative of the country.

The IM/UFRRJ occupies three new buildings, has an energetic and recently hired faculty and enrolls 3,500 students in ten areas of study. The demand for higher education—and the scope of the challenge in delivering it—can be seen in looking at the census estimates for the seven counties closest to the IM/UFRRJ with 353,653 young people between the ages of 18 and 25. Given the 2016 objectives established by the National Plan of Education, 116,705 of these young people should have access to a university education, with 40% of the slots to be generated at the new public universities like the IM/UFFRJ, which at present reaches only 1% of the local population of the age group defined as the primary target for university education.

Anticipated Outcomes

Exhibition in the Franklin Humanities Institute; 20-minute film; two-day conference at Duke with Brazilian partners (March 20 and 29); short films for the Global Brazil Lab website; grant proposals; academic papers submitted to the Southeastern Council for Latin American Studies meeting in March 2017


Summer 2016 – Spring 2017

Team Outcomes to Date

The Cost of Opportunity: Higher Education & Social Mobility in Rio de Janeiro’s Baixada Fluminense (Part 1) (G. Kidd, A. Necalli, C. Ricks, J.V. Alencar, R. Allen, J. Lee, T. Brown)

The Cost of Opportunity: Higher Education & Social Mobility in Rio de Janeiro’s Baixada Fluminens (Part 2) (G. Kidd, A. Necalli, C. Ricks, J.V. Alencar, R. Allen, J. Lee, T. Brown)

Challenges for Marginalized Students in Higher Education in South Africa, the US and Beyond (workshop by Duke alumna Amelia Herbert, Friday, November 11, 2016)

Project website


The Cost of Opportunity? Higher Education in the Baixada Fluminense

Global Brazil Lab - Cost of Opportunity in the Baixada Fluminense


John Victor Alencar ’17

Gray Kidd, PhD Program in History

Adair Necalli ’19

Eyram Klu ’19

This Team in the News

Enraizados exibiu documentário ‘O custo da oportunidade’ no Ponto Cine

Documentário mostra transformações e desafios de estudantes da Baixada que decidem cursar o ensino superior

Student Laurels and Honors for 2017

Students Present Their Research and Learn from Each Other at the Bass Connections Showcase

From Durham to Brazil, Students Share Research Stories

Two Graduate Students Honored for Excellence in Mentoring Their Bass Connections Team Members

Challenges, Dreams and Struggles: Sharing Experiences Transnationally

Photo Contest Winners Shed Light on Their Research Experiences in Brazil and India

March 27 Conference to Explore Cost of Opportunity Related to Higher Education in Brazil

Brazilian Scholars to Meet at Duke Feb. 17 for Discussion of Dams, Education and Impeachment

Bass Connections in Brazil

Bass Connections in Baixada Fluminense

IM é tema de pesquisa internacional

Advances and Challenges in the Expansion of Higher Education

Duke Team Collaborates with Brazilian Students to Explore the Cost of Opportunity

Duke’s Global Brazil Lab Works to Create Partnerships between Duke, Brazilian Universities

Rio, the Reluctant Metropolis: Introduction to the Baixada Fluminense (Part 1 and Part 2)

Cosponsored by the Global Brazil Humanities Lab and the Duke Brazil Initiative

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Antonio Arce, Trinity - Latin American Studies*
Marcos De Almeida Rangel, Sanford School of Public Policy*
John French, Trinity - History*
Katya Wesolowski, Trinity - Cultural Anthropology*

Graduate Team Members

Aaron Colston, History
Gray Kidd, History
Travis Knoll, Graduate School - PhD in History
Stephanie Reist, PhD in Romance Studies

Undergraduate Team Members

John Victor Alencar, Global Health (AB), Economics (AB2)
Riley Allen, Int Comparative Studies (AB), Int Comparative Studies (AB2)
Zhong Huang, Computer Science (BS)
Michael Ivory, Political Science (AB)
Eyram Klu
Jessica Lee, Computer Science (AB)
Adair Necalli, Linguistics (AB)
Leighanne Oh, Biomedical Engineering

* denotes team leader