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RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - Her mother, a housekeeper, never made it past second grade. Her father, a policeman, never finished high school.

Nevertheless, Lina Prieto had earned a place in the creative writing program at Colombia's most prestigious public university. Her goal, to write the next great Latin American novel, felt within reach.

Over the past two decades, millions of young people in Latin America became the first members of their families to go to college, a historic expansion that promised to propel a generation into the professional arena and transform the region.

Now, as the pandemic sweeps across . . .

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