College Costs On Our Homeland

College Costs in America Compared to Some Other Countries

Philis Wood, Contributing Reporter

     Students in the US spend more on college than almost any other country, according to the 2018 Education at a Glance report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In the US, college costs have significantly increased every year for at least three decades. When it comes to the price of an education, the US is in a class of its own. Compared to the rest of the world, spending per student in the US is outrageously high, and has almost no relationship to the value that students get in exchange. 

     Today, fully one third of all developed countries have free college for their citizens. And another third has very low tuition (less than $2,400 per year). But in America, college is now the second-largest expense a person will incur in a lifetime, second only to buying a house. In fact, increasing tuition and fees at American colleges have made college too expensive for many families. On average, US college students now graduate with more than $35,000 of debt. And did you know that more than half of the students who enroll in US colleges do not ever finish a degree? Each year millions of American college students leave college with no degree, but with thousands of dollars of debt. Surprisingly, almost forty percent of college students consider dropping out just to avoid more student loan debt. In addition, more than three million older Americans struggle to survive under crushing student loan debt. It is shocking but true: thousands of senior citizens in the US are forced to give up their Social Security checks because of student loan debt. Nowadays, the staggering cost of a college education in America causes many young people to wonder whether college is worth the expense.

     But in spite of all this, many people in America still do not know that in lots of countries around the world today, college is either free or almost free. And contrary to what you might expect, studying abroad can actually save you money. As the cost of US colleges continues to rise, many Americans are turning to universities in other countries for their education. Europe is popular because many countries there offer free tuition. Some of these countries—like Slovenia, Norway and Germany—even offer free tuition to international students. And, even when non-EU students are charged tuition and fees, these costs are much lower than at US colleges and universities. Add to that the low cost of living in most European countries, and it’s clear why more and more Americans today get their degrees in Europe. According to data from the Institute of International Education, about 50,000 U.S. students are currently pursuing full degrees abroad, with more than half of them studying in the U.K. and Canada. However, in countries like Sweden and Germany, students attend university entirely free of charge. In addition, colleges in France and Switzerland also offer extremely low tuition and, as a result, only a small percentage of students graduate with student loan debt. Even when you add the cost of traveling overseas, college in Europe is less expensive than a private college in the US.

     In the US public system, the high cost of college has a lot to do with politics. Most state legislatures now spend much less per student than they did thirty years ago. Brainwashed by the ideology of small government, states are more and more forcing American public universities to beg for funds. Cuts in funding were especially deep following the 2008 recession, and the easiest way for universities to make up for the cuts was to shift most of their costs to students. The rationalization offered along with these funding cuts is always the same, namely that the cuts will just make colleges more efficient. But unfortunately, budget cuts have instead made many public colleges behave more and more like profit-hungry corporations. And—unlike many other countries—the US has no workable system for controlling price increases.

     Some students may imagine that the way things are now is somehow ‘natural’ or inevitable. But many professors remember that things used to be different in the US, at least until the late 1970s. In New York, Governor Cuomo has committed to making undergraduate education at the City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY) entirely free for students from families that earn less than $120,000 per year. And in 2014, Tennessee’s governor Bill Haslam agreed to provide free community college to all state residents. Today Tennessee is model state in this regard.

     America was once the world leader in producing talented and hardworking college graduates. But today, unaffordability and limited access have created a situation in which a college education in the US simply is not worth the expense for many families. How can we remedy this? If we really want to make America great again, then we should consider the total financial burden that students—and their parents—face. And we should provide students with all of the financial support that is necessary for them to complete their degree without student debt. This could easily be done. 

     We could make higher education a right for all, and cancel all student debt for an estimated $2.2 trillion. To pay for this, we could impose a tax of a fraction of a percent on the same Wall Street speculators who nearly destroyed the economy in 2008. This Wall Street speculation tax would raise $2.4 trillion over the next ten years. It would place a tiny 0.5 percent tax on stock trades. This is only 50 cents on every $100 of stock. Wall Street was bailed out for several trillion dollars. So why can’t 45 million Americans be bailed out from the $1.5 trillion burden of student loan debt? Today, many other countries in the world still have a similar tax, including China, the UK, Hong Kong, South Korea, Brazil, Switzerland, Germany, and France. 

     It is no accident that these countries are not facing the kind of crisis in higher education that we face here in America.