Petar Stanchev is the kind of student Bulgaria needs to keep. Last year, according to the country's Association of Private Universities, more than half of its college-bound students applied to institutions abroad, says the Hechinger Report. The 23-year-old planned to remain in this mountainous, verdant patch of southeastern Europe. For two years, working toward a bachelor's degree in journalism, he showed up for classes in sociology and media at the prestigious Sofia University. The problem was, his teachers didn't.

"I had a French teacher who didn't come to lectures for weeks as though it was normal," he said. "There were whole...

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