Education in Puerto Rico

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Education in Puerto Rico
Department of Education
Council on Higher Education
National education budget
Budget $3.5 billion US$
General details
Primary languages Spanish, English
System type state, private
Male 93.9%
Female 94.4
Total unknown
Primary unknown
Secondary unknown
Post secondary unknown
Secondary diploma 60%
Post-secondary diploma 18.3%

Education in Puerto Rico is overseen by the Department of Education of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Education Council. The Department oversees all elementary and secondary public education while the Council oversees all academic standards and issues licenses to educational institutions wishing to operate or establish themselves in Puerto Rico.[1]

Instruction in Puerto Rico is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 18, which comprises the elementary and high school grades. Students in Puerto Rico may attend either public or private schools. As of 2013, the island had 1,460 public schools, 764 private schools, 606,515 K-12 students, 64,335 vocational students, and 250,011 university students.[2]

The literacy rate of the Puerto Rican population was 94.1% in 2002; when divided by gender, this is distributed as 93.9% for males and 94.4% for females.[3] According to the 2000 Census, 60.0% of the population attained a high school degree or higher level of education, and 18.3% has a bachelor's degree or higher.[4][needs update]


The first school in Puerto Rico was the Escuela de Gramática (English: Grammar School). The school was established by Bishop Alonso Manso in 1513, in the area where the Cathedral of San Juan was to be constructed. The school was free of charge and the courses taught were Latin language, literature, history, science, art, philosophy and theology.[5]


The educational system in Puerto Rico consists of seven categories.[6] These categories are based on the educational levels covered:

# Level Age Commonly known as Compulsion Remarks
1 nursery school 0–4 pre-K optional comprises Early Head Start, Head Start, and pre-kindergarten
2 preschool 5 K compulsory comprises kindergarten
3 elementary education 6–11 1–6 compulsory comprises first grade to sixth grade
4 junior high school 12–14 7–9 compulsory comprises seventh grade to ninth grade
5 high school 15–17 10–12 compulsory comprises tenth grade to twelfth grade
6 undergraduate 18+ college optional comprises associate and/or bachelor's degree
7 graduate 22+ graduate school optional comprises master's degree, doctorate, and/or post-doctorate

Some Puerto Rican schools, most notably in rural areas, offer kinder to ninth grade (K–9) at the same institution and are referred to as Segunda Unidad (English: Second Unit). Other schools offer seventh grade to twelfth grade (7–12) at the same institution and are referred to as Nivel Secundario (English: Secondary Level).

Elementary and secondary education[edit]

Public education[edit]

The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico grants the right to an education to every citizen on the island. To this end, public schools in Puerto Rico provide free and secular education at the elementary and secondary levels.

The public school system is funded by the state and is operated by the Puerto Rico Department of Education (Departamento de Educación del Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico) [1]. The department employs over 45 thousand teachers of which 32,000 have full-time tenureships and are organized under several independent unions, including the Puerto Rico Teachers Association and the Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico. The remaining teachers are either temporary or contracted on a yearly basis.

Preschool education, care, and services (including Early Head Start and Head Start) are free for low income families with private daycares being common and within walking distance in urban areas. Primary and secondary education is compulsory and free regardless of income through more than 1,400 public schools. Ten public schools are considered prestigious locally. All of them being magnet schools, which graduate the highest scores on the island of the College Board's PEAU (Latin America's equivalent of the SAT). Two examples of these are CIMATEC and CROEM which focus on science, technology, and mathematics.

Public schools in Puerto Rico are subject to the federal laws of the United States. The NCLB, No Child Left Behind Act included Puerto Rico until president Obama approved a waiver in October 22, 2013. (


Unlike most schools in the United States, public school instruction in Puerto Rico is conducted entirely in Spanish. English is taught as a second language and is a compulsory subject at all levels. In the early years following the 1898 American occupation of the island, the opposite was true: public schooling was entirely conducted in English, and Spanish was treated as a special subject (the practice ended in 1915). In 2012, pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuño caused controversy when he proposed that all courses in Puerto Rico public schools be taught in English instead of Spanish as they currently are.[7]

Private schools[edit]

Private schools in Puerto Rico are operated by non-governmental institutions.[citation needed] Accredited elementary and secondary private schools in Puerto Rico must meet minimum public education requirements for academic work (P.R. Laws Ann. Tit. 18, § 57).

There are more than 700 private schools on the island, most of them Catholic.[2] It is constitutionally illegal to deny entrance or take action against students that profess a difference faith than the school they attend or intend to attend. Students from differing denominations are legally freed from attending religious activities on the schools they attend. Prominent private schools include Academia del Perpetuo Socorro, Academia Maria Reina, Academia San Jorge, Colegio Marista Guaynabo, Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola, and Colegio San José which maintain a high rate of students being accepted into prominent universities in the United States.


Homeschooling, an alternative form of education, is legal in Puerto Rico but is neither regulated nor legislated.

The issue of legislation has caused a serious rift within the homeschooling community. While some of these parents want the government to establish a public policy on homeschooling, others oppose all forms of legislation. They also allege that the lack of regulation has led them to confront difficulties when interacting with the government, as evidenced in the case of a homeschooled student who was denied federal Social Security benefits.[citation needed]

From the Applicable Law portion of the decision:

Student benefits are payable if the student meets the Federal standards for full-time attendance (FTA) (RS 00205.300C.); the law of the State in which the home school is located recognizes home school as an educational institution (El); the home school the student attends meets the requirements of State law in which the home school is located; and the student meets all the other requirements for benefits.
Education is compulsory in Puerto Rico between the ages of six and seventeen years. 3L.P.R.A. §391 (a).Attendance in public elementary and secondary schools is compulsory for students except for those students attending "schools established under non-governmental auspices." - Puerto Rico Constitution, Article II §5; 18 L.P.R.A. §2.

After careful consideration of all the evidence, the undersigned Administrative Law Judge concludes the claimant did not attend a sanctioned homeschool program approved by the Puerto Rican legislature within the meaning of the Social Security Act from December 1, 2003 to August 1, 2004.

Higher education in Puerto Rico[edit]

Over half of the students entering college level institutions in Puerto Rico, never graduate: 41% of 4-year students in public universities and 33% in private institutions get a diploma.[8]

Community colleges & technical institutes[edit]

There are a number of junior colleges on the island, the most prominent being the Huertas College, the ICPR Junior College, the Instituto de Banca y Comercio, and the National University College (NUC). There is one state-run system, the Puerto Rico Technological Institute, which possesses several prestigious programs at the local level and whose costs are significantly below market prices.[citation needed]

Colleges and universities[edit]

The three major university systems on the island are the University of Puerto Rico with 11 campuses, the Ana G. Méndez University System (SUAGM) with 3 major campuses and some satellites, and the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico (Inter) with 9 campuses and 2 specialized schools.

The University of Puerto Rico performs the following"[citation needed]

  • it produces more than 80% of all post-secondary research on the island,[citation needed]
  • it graduates the largest number of Hispanic engineers in the United States,
  • it graduates the largest number of chemical engineers in the United States,
  • it graduates the second largest number of female engineers in the United States,
  • it owns the largest number of patents by a university on the island,
  • it has the largest enrollment on the island and one of the largest in the United States,[citation needed]
  • it has the largest faculty body on the island and one of the largest in the United States,
  • it offers the largest number of academic programs on the island and one of the largest in the United States,
  • it offers the largest number of doctoral programs on the island,
  • it has the largest number of campuses on the island,
  • it has the highest ratio of students from the island that enroll in graduate studies,
  • it confers the largest number of post-secondary degrees on the island,
  • it conducts almost all medical research on the island,
  • it is considered the best university in all the Caribbean,
  • its flagship campus has won 24 out of the 86 global cups of the Puerto Rico college athletics, and
  • it has graduated six out of ten governors of Puerto Rico.

The system is a source of patronage. Its board of trustees, chancellor, rectors, deans, and program directors changing whenever a different political party gains power (about every 4 or 8 years) as the university is a government-owned corporation. Its flagship campus is also prone to student strikes, averaging about one strike every three years that halts the whole campus, with the system as a whole averaging about one strike every five years that halts the whole system. Most strikes derive from the university management attempting to raise the cost per credit the institution offers. This has been $55 per undergraduate credit and $117 per graduate credit. It is highly unlikely that a student graduates with college debt as a full Pell Grant covers most costs for low income students, and those that don't receive a full Pell Grant or a Pell Grant at all can easily cover tuition costs. This economic accessibility comes at a price for the taxpayers of Puerto Rico: 9.6% of the General Budget of the Government of Puerto Rico is automatically assigned to the university by law. In 2008, when the economy shrunk, so did the university's endowment. This resulted in problems for an already highly indebted university incapable of generating enough revenue to maintain itself.[9] Because of this, the board of trustees increased tuition costs, which led to strikes. Other strikes were caused by the suggestion of reducing the percentage automatically assigned to the university.[citation needed] No bill has been filed for such purpose.

The University of Puerto Rico offers the largest academic choices with 472 academic programs of which 32 can lead to a doctorate. UPR is also the only system with a business school, an engineering school, a law school, a nursing school, a school of architecture, and a school of medicine. Almost all its schools and programs rank first on the island although competition has increased in the last decades with private universities gaining track at a fast pace. The Ana G. Méndez System, the Interamerican University, and the University of the Sacred Heart possess a business school with the University of Sacred Heart leading in non-profit management and social enterprise, as well as in communications. The Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico and the Turabo University both have engineering schools with the Polytechnic University leading in computer security and offering the only master's degree in computer science on the island. Ranking regarding law schools is subjective with the University of Puerto Rico School of Law, the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico School of Law, and the Eugenio María de Hostos School of Law considered the best although UPR still leads in constitutional law. The University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine and the University of Puerto Rico School of Dental Medicine lead in medicine and dentistry.[citation needed]

The Interamerican University School of Optometry is the only school of optometry on the island. The Carlos Albizu University leads in psychology.[citation needed] The Metropolitan University leads in environmental management,[citation needed] The UPR leads in environmental science.[citation needed]

In terms of arts, the Atlantic University College leads in digital arts. The Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico and the School of Plastic Arts of Puerto Rico are considered leaders in music and arts respectively.[citation needed] The school of international relations was created in November 2013 under the name of Morales Carrión Diplomatic and Foreign Relations School, ascribed to the Department of State of Puerto Rico and still in development.

Almost all junior colleges, colleges, universities, and schools are accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Specific programs tend to possess their respective accreditation as well (such as ABET, AACSB, LCME, and so on) although it is not uncommon for programs to not possess its expected accreditation—for example, only two business schools are accredited by AACSB.[citation needed]

University Public/Private Locations
American University of Puerto Rico Private Bayamón, Manatí
Atlantic College of Puerto Rico Private Guaynabo
Caribbean University Private Bayamón, Carolina, Ponce, Vega Baja
Carlos Albizu University Private San Juan
Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe Private San Juan
Colegio Universitario de San Juan Public San Juan
Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico Public San Juan
Escuela de Artes Plásticas de Puerto Rico Public San Juan
Facultad de Derecho Eugenio Maria de Hostos Private Mayagüez
National University College Private Arecibo, Bayamón, Ponce, Rio Grande
Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico Private San Juan
Ponce School of Medicine Private Ponce
Pontífica Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico Private Arecibo, Coamo, Mayaguez, Ponce
San Juan Bautista School of Medicine Private Caguas
Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico Private Rio Piedras
Universidad Adventista de las Antillas Private Mayagüez
Universidad Central de Bayamón Private Bayamón
Universidad Central del Caribe Private Bayamón
Universidad de Puerto Rico Public Aguadilla, Arecibo, Bayamón, Carolina, Cayey, Humacao, Mayagüez, Ponce, San Juan, Utuado
Universidad del Este Private Cabo Rojo, Carolina, Manatí, Santa Isabel, Utuado, Yauco
Universidad del Sagrado Corazón Private San Juan
Universidad del Turabo Private Gurabo
Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico Private Aguadilla, Arecibo, Barranquitas, Bayamón, Fajardo, Guayama, Ponce, San Germán, San Juan
Universidad Metropolitana Private Aguadilla, Bayamón, Jayuya, San Juan
University of Phoenix Private Guaynabo

Contemporary issues[edit]

Dropout rate[edit]

A recent study by the Department of Education of Puerto Rico showed that about 40% of all the students that enter tenth grade in public schools in Puerto Rico drop out and never finish secondary education.[4][10]

Parents participation[edit]

A January 2014 news report stated that 55% of parents with children in public schools picked up their children's grades for the first semester of 2013–2014 school year on the scheduled day.[11]

Poor performance in public schools[edit]

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, ninety-five percent (95%) of public school students in Puerto Rico graduate at a sub-basic level while sixty percent (60%) do not even graduate.[12] Furthermore, according to the Department of Education of Puerto Rico, thirty-nine percent (39%) of public school students perform at a basic level (average performance) in Spanish in the Puerto Rican Tests of Academic Achievement.[13] Likewise, 36% perform at a basic level in Mathematics while 35% perform at a basic level in English and 43% at a basic level in Science in said tests.[13]

NAEP scores 2005

Moreover, studies published in 2003, 2005, and 2007 by the United States National Center for Education Statistics as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) concluded that Puerto Rico falls below basic levels when compared to the United States[14][15][16]—being basic defined as "partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work" according to NAEP. In particular the findings showed that:

  • Overall, fourth- and eighth-grade students in Puerto Rico scored lower, on average, than public school students in the United States.[14]
  • Twelve percent (12%) of students in Puerto Rico scored at or above basic in fourth grade in comparison to the United States where 79% of students scored at or above basic in the same grade.[14]
  • Six percent (6%) of students in Puerto Rico scored at or above basic in eighth grade in comparison to the United States where 68% of students in the United States scored at or above basic in the same grade.[14]

As a result of this, 1,321 out of 1,466 public schools in Puerto Rico (about 90%) do not comply with the academic progress requirements established by the No Child Left Behind Act.[17]

Market demand for college graduates[edit]

Puerto Rico is atypical as many youngsters pursue post-secondary studies even though the local market has no demand for them. For example, in 2012 50,000 students graduated at the undergraduate and graduate level while the labor market generated about 6,000 jobs per year of which 25% of those required that level of education.[a] This effectively means that the Puerto Rican market has no demand for 97% of those who graduate with an undergraduate or graduate degree in Puerto Rico, although many find jobs out of the island.

Notable Puerto Rico educators[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • La Junta Local de Instrucción Pública de Ponce: una Experiencia Histórica (1900-1910). Cristina R. Torres. Caribbean University, Recinto de Ponce. 2011. (Accessible through La Revista de Investigación Cualitativa, ISSN 2164-7216, Unión Puertorriqueña de Investigadores Cualitativos (UPIC), sistema de acceso abierto (OJS). "Revistas de la Universidad de Puerto Rico." University of Puerto Rico.) Discusses the topic of the municipalization of public education in Puerto Rico.


  1. ^ Calderón (2013; in Spanish) "En 2012, se graduaron cerca de 50,000 estudiantes de nivel subgraduado y graduado y se proyectaba que el mercado laboral generara en promedio cerca de 6,000* empleos por año, de los cuales sólo el 25% requiere esos niveles de educación."[2]


  1. ^ "Conoce el Departamento de Educación | Departamento de Educación de Puerto Rico". Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  2. ^ a b c Calderón, Jaime (October 2013). "Panorama del sector educativo" (PDF) (in Spanish). Puerto Rico Education Council. Retrieved January 11, 2014. 
  3. ^ CIA FactBook
  4. ^ a b Census 2000 Educational Attainment Data
  5. ^ "Hispanic Firsts", By; Nicolas Kanellos, publisher Visible Ink Press; ISBN 0-7876-0519-0; p.40
  6. ^ Online Guide to Educational Systems Around the World - Puerto Rico. NAFSA.Page 4. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  7. ^ Coto, Danica (May 8, 2012). "Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño Proposes Plan For Island's Public Schools To Teach In English Instead Of Spanish". The Huffington Post. Retrieved June 22, 2012. 
  8. ^ Muchos estudiantes y pocos los diplomas. Jason Rodríguez Grafal. La Perla del Sur. Ponce, Puerto Rico. Year 30. Retrieved 22 June 1012.
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Home - El Nuevo Día". Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  11. ^ "Poco más de la mitad de los padres fueron a buscar notas de sus hijos" (in Spanish). Metro International. January 10, 2014. Retrieved January 11, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Carta de Ricardo Rossello a Claridad". Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  13. ^ a b Puerto Rico Department of Education, Library and Information Services Program (21 September 2012). "Puerto Rico Five Year Plan 2013-2017" (PDF). Retrieved 9 February 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c d G.P., Baxter, M.M., Bleeker, T.L. Waits and S. Salvucci (14 March 2007). "The Nation's Report Card: Mathematics 2003 and 2005 Performance in Puerto Rico" (PDF). Retrieved 9 February 2014. 
  15. ^ G.S. Dion, J.G. Haberstroh, and A.R. Dresher (15 March 2007). "The Nation's Report Card: Mathematics 2005 Performance in Puerto Rico: Focus on the Content Areas" (PDF). Retrieved 9 February 2014. 
  16. ^ "Commissioner's Remarks - National Assessment of Educational Progress
    The Nation's Report Card: Mathematics 2003 and 2005 Performance in Puerto Rico—Highlights
    The Nation's Report Card: Mathematics 2005 Performance in Puerto Rico—Focus on the Content Areas - March 29, 2007"
    . Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  17. ^ "Home - El Nuevo Día". Retrieved 2014-02-09. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Solsiree del Moral, Negotiating Empire: The Cultural Politics of Schools in Puerto Rico, 1898–1952. Madison, WI; University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.