Mexico City’s public university, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM, or the National Autonomous University of Mexico) is one of the best in the country and has a contained campus just outisde the center o the city that includes the 1968 Olympic stadium. Professor Gómez received a degree in Hispanic Literatures and Languages at UNAM before completing her graduate studies in the States.
In the 1960s and ’70s the university was a hotbed of political activity. UNAM students organized rallies, demonstrations, etc. in protest of the PRI regime. Many of the ex-guerrilla women we interviewed reported that they first came into contact with the resistance movement through family members or friends affiliated with the university.
The university typically enrolls about 300,000 students per year, and Professor Gómez explained that there is no on-campus housing. Most students are residents of the Mexico City area, and thus live at home. But others, who come from more rural communities, rent apartments or rooms in the city. Few students complete their studies in four years because, although tuition is relatively inexpensive, most must work to pay their own living and education costs. Many also financially support their families. A vast majority of the students are of a nontraditional (by American standards, I suppose) undergraduate age.
An examination is required to enter the college. Although Professor Gómez does not think the exam is particularly difficult, she says that it can be hard to gain entrance because the college admits a limited number of students each year and thus, although an applicant’s test scores may be satisfactory, if a number of other students scored just a little bit higher, then the student will not be admitted. Although such a system may sound both fair and familiar to American students applying to competitive undergraduate schools, there are fewer college options in Mexico, and thus not gaining admittance to UNAM is far more of a setback to a Mexican student than a rejection from Haverford would be for an American one. Also, since tuition is very low, there is no financial aid, and, as I said, no housing provided, so attending another university would entail moving to another area, finding enough work to support one’s self, and taking classes during one’s time off work. Since the student is working, he/she will probably not be able to enroll full-time, and thus his/her stay in the area will likely last far longer than four years.