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Exchange of State, Mexican Students Urged

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Citing the recent surge of goodwill between California and Mexico, Lt. Gov. Cruz M. Bustamante announced Wednesday that he will work to establish an elite graduate student exchange program between top universities in both places.

Bustamante said he envisioned the program as a version of the Rhodes Scholarships in England and proposed that it would pay for 10 students each from California and Mexico to study across the borders for two years.

The aim, he said, would be to “produce highly trained bicultural leaders who can foster California-Mexico relations into the 21st century.”

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While Wednesday’s announcement was long on hope, it was short on specifics. Bustamante and his aides couldn’t say how much the proposed program would cost, how the students would be chosen, or how the size and membership of the board of directors that would run it would be determined.

Those details will be left to a group of academic “organizers” that Bustamante has tapped to develop a plan. The group includes Abraham Lowenthal, founding president of the Pacific Council on International Policy at USC, and Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, research director of the North American Integration and Development Center at UCLA.

“I expect that we will have our plans formulated by the end of the year, with implementation to begin sometime next year,” said Bustamante. He added that money for the program probably would come from private sources.

Bustamante said the idea of a student exchange came to him several years ago when, preparing for his first trip to Mexico as then-Assembly speaker, he was struck by how many top Mexican officials had attended U.S. universities on the East Coast, particularly Ivy League schools.

“There weren’t a lot of folks who had gotten their graduate degrees or their undergraduate degrees from Stanford, USC or UCLA or, hopefully in the future, UC Merced,” said Bustamante, a Central Valley Democrat and the first Latino to be elected lieutenant governor in nearly 130 years.

The idea came full circle, he said, when Lowenthal independently suggested the California-Mexico student exchange during a meeting last year, Bustamante said.

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He added that Lowenthal, who directs USC’s Pacific Council, has contacted some academic counterparts in Mexico and “received a positive response so far.”

Earlier this year, a task force convened by the Pacific Council called for the fellowship in a package of recommendations to improve relations with Mexico.

While Bustamante’s proposal would target the “best and brightest,” it would be dwarfed by the numbers of students already crossing the Mexican border for classes. The latest figures show that American universities enroll nearly 9,000 Mexican nationals, while Mexico is host to more than 6,200 American college students.

Bustamante’s announcement coincided with a trade mission visit to the Los Angeles area by Alberto Cardenas Jimenez, governor of the Mexican state of Jalisco.

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