Alex Pulido, 31, is a U.S. citizen with a wife, an 11-month-old child and close to $100,000 of debt from loans he took out to study medicine in Costa Rica. To make ends meet, Pulido says he helps out at his father’s doctor’s office in Florida and does farm work on weekends to support his family, unable to pursue medicine in the United States as he had planned. Though he insists he finished his studies and passed his exams, the school refuses to give him his degree.
Pulido, who studied at the University of Medical Sciences (UCIMED) in San José, says despite fulfilling all his requirements, the school will not hand over the title because he has not completed a year of internship. While Pulido maintains the internship requirement was added after he had already been studying and should not apply to him – a claim backed by the nation’s governing body of universities – UCIMED says both are wrong and Pulido knew about the requirement when he started.
“This has been a two-and-a-half year fight where I have won every single battle and the school has found a way to drag it out so I will fold,” Pulido said.
After three of his cousins from the Unites States graduated from UCIMED – formerly a part of the Autonomous University of Central America (UACA) – Pulido decided to follow suit. The university is accredited in the United States and the degree it issues holds the same weight as a doctorate, Pulido said. For students who weren’t the top of their class in college, getting their degree in Costa Rica is a viable option, he continued, pointing out that his three cousins are currently doing residencies at U.S. hospitals.
Pulido insists that UCIMED did not tell him or other classmates the year-long internship was mandatory until more than a year into his studies, and he sports a thick notebook of documentation he says supports his cause. During a trip here from the United States to press his case with Costa Rica’s Superior Council of Higher Education (CONESUP), he showed The Tico Times pamphlets and curriculum descriptions listing the courses and credits required to graduate, but not mentioning the year of internship.
He also points out that his $94,000 in Stafford student loans, which the university signed off on, were also based on the study plan that did not include the extra year.
The difference in opinions, Pulido explained, boils down to CONESUP’s approval of the course, put down in a book of acts. The original act in CONESUP’s book approves the course as Pulido completed it, without the year of internship, he said.
CONESUP has twice sided in Pulido’s favor, overruling an appeal by UCIMED and saying the University should give the former student his title, said Carlos Lépiz, the council’s executive director.
“CONESUP approved the turning over of the title to the student, as according to the approved plan of studies,” Lépiz said.
UCIMED, however, has refused to honor the council’s rulings, and has taken the case to the courts, filing suit before the
“CONESUP made a mistake,” UCIMED’s rector, Misael Chinchilla, told The Tico Times. The rector insisted that Pulido received an erroneous communication of the act and CONESUP’s act is incorrect as well.
Chinchilla said that the year of internship is a requirement passed down by CONESUP in 1999, and because Pulido enrolled in 2000, he cannot receive his degree without doing the internship. Chinchilla refused to answer any further questions, referring them to the school’s lawyer.
Ana Isabel Borbón, the university’s lawyer, speculated that CONESUP’s ruling is because “it’s only one student.”
“For them it’s easier just to tell us to give him the title,” Borbón said, adding that if the school gave Pulido his title, it would have to do the same for scores of other students who entered with him. The lawyer pointed out that when Pulido first began his fight for his degree, there were “four or five” other students with him, but they eventually conceded, did the year of internship and got their degrees.
“I considered going back and doing the year,” Pulido said. “But they said I had to send a letter saying I would give up on the court case, and then they would consider letting me in.”
To Pulido, that meant they would not accept him, and his only chance for his title was to force the school to hand it over.
“The evidence is overwhelming. The school is trying to drag me out through the whole court system,” Pulido said.
Pulido recently filed a motion for a “Forced Execution,” which would require CONESUP to force UCIMED to hand over the degree. CONESUP will discuss the request at its next meeting in December, Lépiz said.