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LASPAU (Academic and Professional Programs for the Americas)
History and Background


In 1959, David Henry, then director of admissions at Harvard University, traveled to Africa with a small group of U.S. university admissions directors ready to offer assistance to the newly decolonized nations. At the time, there was only one university in Nigeria and one in Ghana. Stephen Awokoya, then Nigeria''s minister of education, approached Henry about placing Nigerian students in American schools.

Henry enlisted a circle of fellow admissions directors, including those from Brown, Amherst, and Bowdoin, and they set up a makeshift Nigerian scholarship program. The effort eventually grew into the African Scholarship Program of American Universities, which went on to link students from 24 African nations with hundreds of universities across the United States.

The African Scholarship Program of American Universities'' achievements were highlighted at the 1963 meeting of the National Association of Foreign Student Affairs (precursor of NAFSA), which Gabriel Betancourt attended as head of the Colombian delegation. Betancourt had founded the Instituto Colombiano de Especialización Técnica en el Exterior (ICETEX), the Colombian student loan agency, in 1950. At the time, it was the first institution of that kind not only in Latin America but in the entire world.

Following the NAFSA meeting, Betancourt contacted David Henry about bringing the African Scholarship Program of American Universities to Latin America. The Latin American Scholarship Program of American Universities (LASPAU) was launched by ICETEX and Harvard University the following year, and David Henry went on to serve for six years as Chair of the initiative.

Latin American Scholarship Program of American Universities

LASPAU’s initial goal was to provide opportunities for undergraduate study to academically exceptional Latin American youths of limited economic means in fields not available in their home country and for which there was a priority need. Thirty-four U.S. colleges launched the program by offering 39 Colombian high school graduates a fully financed bachelor’s degree course. Henry Holland served as the founding director. The students, selected in cooperation with ICETEX, undertook intensive English language training in Colombia in order to enter U.S. degree programs in September of 1965.

As soon as this first group obtained admission to U.S. universities, plans were set in motion for a second round of grantees. It had already become apparent to LASPAU’s founders that one of the great services the program could offer was to contribute to strengthening Latin American institutions. Consequently, the second group of students included both individuals who had recently graduated from high school and students who were already enrolled in Latin American institutions of higher education. The latter group committed to returning to their home institutions to teach on a full-time basis for a period of four years following the completion of their exchange programs.

In addition to students from Colombia, the group selected in 1965 to begin studies in the fall of 1966 included individuals from Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru. One hundred and forty LASPAU students were accepted at 130 U.S. universities.

With the second group of grantees, the U.S. Agency for International Development began covering the students’ maintenance, books, and incidental personal expenses. USAID also took over most of the administrative costs of the program, which had been covered by the Ford Foundation in the start-up phase of the effort. U.S. universities—who had fully funded the initial group of grantees—continued to provide tuition scholarships and to participate as dues-paying members of LASPAU. From this point onward, all of the grantees obtained English language training and/or cultural orientation at international training institutions in the United States.


LASPAU is a nonprofit organization affiliated with Harvard University and governed by an independent, inter-American board of trustees. LASPAU designs, develops, and implements academic and professional programs to benefit the Americas. For further information on LASPAU''s current and past activities and capabilities, please see the Programs and Services sections of this site.

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