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Viewpoints: Judge Mexican leader’s visit on education issue

Amid all the goodwill heralding next week’s visit to California by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, we might want to recall the sage maxim that “all politics is local.” The success of California’s forays into international diplomacy needs to be measured in terms of local opportunity and benefits for both parties.

The success or failure of this key event should not only be about trade, border security and migration issues. The true mark of success should be whether California government, business and nonprofit leaders were able to successfully develop mutually beneficial projects that reached local communities on both sides of the border.

And that will be based largely on whether we can increase the number of highly educated Californians and Mexicans who can seamlessly navigate and contribute at all levels in both countries.

We face strong challenges in this arena. According to a 2011 study by UNESCO, of the 500,000 international students who study in the U.S., only 14,000 are from Mexico. Only 4,100 Americans are studying in Mexico, including just 40 University of California students.

The Mexican government recently announced an ambitious program to expand the number of students studying in the U.S. to 100,000 by 2018, and for 50,000 American students to study at Mexican universities. Known as “Proyecta 100,000,” the program highlights the potential for forging educational links on issues such as energy and climate change, scientific and technical innovation and economic development.

The time has come for the U.S. to respond to these ambitious goals with action. California is well positioned to take the lead.

For the last four years, Cien Amigos, a Sacramento-based group of academics, professionals, entrepreneurs and community leaders, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for scholarships and grants to help talented young people from Mexican American and Latino communities in Northern California enroll in U.S. colleges and universities. Cien Amigos also supports expanding Cal Grants for California students to supplement the full scholarships now offered by Mexico for foreign students to complete post-graduate programs at its universities.

Cien Amigos is committed to partnering with academic, government and business leaders to expand California-Mexico student exchanges and degree opportunities. This type of enlightened self-interest, coupled with international diplomacy, results in both our economies and local communities moving forward.