The first Panamanian University (the Royal and Pontifical University of San Javier) offered a curriculum heavily dependent on religion and theology. But this situation did not last long because the Jesuits, who founded the University in 1749, were expelled from Panama by royal order in 1767. The next institution of higher learning was the College of Istmo, founded in 1824 and closed in 1903, as Panamanians won their independence from Colombia. The University of Panama started in 1935 and was the only full fledged University until 1965, when the University of St. Mary started. By 2000 there were more institutions of higher learning: the Technological University of Panama, Nova University, University of Florida, Panama Canal College, Chiriquí Autonomous University, and the University of Istmo. The total number of institutions of higher learning is 14, and the number of students who attended them surpassed 91,000 in 1998.
The University of Panama is the leading institution of higher learning. It is composed of faculties, which are divided into schools; degrees are offered in medicine, law, architecture, education and other subjects. To enter the university students must have completed high school (bachillerato) and passed entrance examinations. Students register for courses that apply to their chosen career; they have already fulfilled general education requirements in high school. After four year of studies, University students are awarded a bachelor's degree (licenciatura). Further studies and the approval of a thesis enable students to obtain a Ph.D. (doctorado).
As in many other countries, higher education in Panama does not guarantee job placement nor does it train students to master their chosen fields. Therefore, many students are opting out from the universities, either dropping out to get employment or registering for short-term vocational education programs.
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