Free, state-paid Universities v. expensive (American) universities.....

I’m wondering what the common knowledge is on education systems like those here in Europe which are significantly less expensive than even public universities in the US. The reason I’m asking is because I read this article today in the NY Times. It’s desciptions of the university system here in France are pretty much exactly what I’m experiencing at my university here in Paris.

On the other hand, the Scandanavian countries offer, if I’m not mistaken, completely free education, and a professor of mine here was recently singing the praises of the Finish education system, saying that it is one of the best in the world.

Yet, a recent study was pretty critical of the European education system.

I’m just curious what people think is the medium between the US’ expensive education system (with large amounts of private grants, scholarships, etc.) and the European government subsidised education…

I don’t know what that median should be, but college education becomes more and more unaffordable for middle and lower income Americans with every passing year, which makess upward mobility much more difficult for an awful lot of people. It isn’t at a crisis stage yet, but I can’t help wondering how much longer this can go on.

I agree. I eventually want to apply for a doctorate, but I could never do it if I don’t get a scholarship.

My university here in France is 10 times less expensive than my *public *university in the states.

Also, in the four years that I was an undergrad, my tuition doubled. Luckily, though, I had a scholarship that augmented with my tuition.

At the same time, if you read the article, it seems like the low tuition here in France isn’t working so well either…

Things have gotten a lot worse in both public and private universities in the US in the past 30 years. I could have gone to City College in New York for free, just like my mother did 30 years before me. State schools did have fees, but they were fairly nominal. Legislatures, to save money, have been raising fees for years.
Two year colleges, in California at least, are still fairly inexpensive.
I don’t know where the median should be either. There were very few complaints 30 years ago about state schools, so going back to that cost level would be good.
Has the actual cost of college (even if paid by the government) gone up as fast in Europe as it has in the US? Here college costs have been going up much faster than inflation for as long as I can remember.

Yes and no. In the case of the UK, the government pays the universities and tells them how many students they should be teaching. In the interests of making sure 50% of the population have some sort of rubber stamp on their CV saying “university educated”, it has been ramping up student numbers without ramping up the amount it pays to match. It is allowing universities to charge up to £3,000 in tuition fees on top of the government payments, but that’s still nowhere near enough. Most universities are either bleeding money, having to shut down expensive-to-run courses, cutting back on education quality, or combinations thereof.

In the long run, it looks as though either we’re going to end up with a US model where people pay full market rates for their education, or the university system is going to fall apart

I think that few people in the US pay the list price for the better schools. I know that my alma mater is at about $45,000 per year for tuition, room, board, fees and books (which seems mind-bogglingly expensive), but a lot of people get loans, grants or scholarships. And when I was there, the list price was about $15-20,000 but something like a third of that was returned to other students in the form of grants or scholarships. So it’s a way of redistributing the costs.

That is very true. Even at private universities, redistribution of wealth is stronger that it will ever be in the outside world. Affirmative action can also be a big factor as well. I disagree with the idea that college education are moving into the realm of the elite for the top schools. If you are, for example, a black male that is really good in say, math, you may need a bodyguard to keep those recruiters away and they are likely going to compete to give you a free education. I grew up in a very poor area where hardly anyone ever went to college and I zipped right into a great school with a full scholarship mainly just by expressing the desire to go.

OTOH, my wife went to the same university and her parents were wealthy so they paid full price. Most expensive colleges follow “If you have it will take it, if you don’t will find something.” College generally have a formula that makes most people feel that they are sacrificing for their education without bankrupting the family. If your family has absolutely no money and you are a great student, that may be one of the best situations to be in for those purposes.

I have read that it is the lower tier of the upper middle class that gets it the worst. They have to pay one or more large tuition bills and try to keep their lifestyle somewhat intact. The poor probably don’t have to pay much upfront and the truly rich can afford it anyway.

I never paid a dime in tuition for undergraduate of grad school. There are a massive number of scholarships out there for all kinds of people. And to point out the obvious, no country gives out “free” college educations. They are tax supported and that comes with some huge drawbacks.

In the case of England and Wales. Scots still get their university education for free, wherever in the UK they study (IIRC).

I’ll second Shagnasty. Between grants and a small scholarship I never paid a dime for tuition or books…and the grants even covered some of my living expenses. The poor (of which I was certain one) don’t have any problem going to a university…if they want too and if they are qualified. I’d say the higher costs of tuition is hurting the middle class, if anyone…and probably foreign students who want to study in the US but who’s parents aren’t wealthy.

As for the US model vs the European model, I guess its all in who your target audience is. IIRC a hell of a lot of people WANT to come to school here in the US from foreign countries. Our colleges are very good, if very expensive. I don’t think thats really the case with most European schools (though some, like Oxford and a few universities in Paris, are obvious exceptions). European higher education is targetted with getting the maximum amount of their own citizens through the program at as little cost to them (on the back end…they pay through the nose in taxes after all). Thats not the goal with US education.

You pick which is better.


Don’t assume your experience is universal. I was a good student at a poor high school with good test scores. Despite getting maximum grants, I still owe the government twenty thousand dollars in student loans for my state University education- which is a pretty low to average amount of college debt to graduate with. I don’t really think this is an acceptable way for us to expect people to start out their young adulthood with.

Another thing about the expensive schools. Some of them will waive tuition for low-income families; those earning less than $50,000 in the case of the University of Pennsylvania, and less than $45,000 in the case of Stanford or Yale. Of course these are highly competitive schools for students of any income.

Unfortunately, it is once again the middle class that gets the shaft. The majority of my class has a family income makes that amount that just disqualifies them for significant aid, but does not allow them to shrug off the $40000+ tuition at most private colleges. Even at Princeton, which is reputed to be very generous with financial aid, offered a friend of mine, who seems to have a fairly average family income, a $5000 annual scholarship. A nice gesture, but that $35000 is still a lot for his family to bear.

I dislike the current pricing system for two reasons. First, it penalizes responsible savings, since assets (such as college savings started several years beforehand) greatly increase the “expected family contribution”, decreasing aid eligibility. Second, it leads to a system in which colleges milk as much money as possible out of each student, essentially discriminating based on income, something considered unethical in most other spheres. As tuition continues to skyrocket, colleges will claim that their financial aid policies are increasingly generous; in reality, the hit for the middle class will just continue to grow.

Here is the article if you aren’t subscribed to the NYT

I prefer the US model mainly because in the US at least research is held at a premium. I hold scientific research to be the most noble, useful profession a person can undertake (philanthropy is second).

A major problem in the US is that alot of people don’t finish or use their degree in the job market. My roommate said he is just in college to enjoy himself (he is a straight A mathematics student). Both his parents are physicians so he can afford that, but it seems a bit expensive to spend 8k a year on tuition & books (as well as 20k a year in state funds) just to enjoy yourself or to learn for the sake of learning. I think only about 50-70% of US freshmen eventually graduate, and of those only a percentage actually use their degree (I know people with biology degrees who work as receptionists, nurses who quit nursing and became cashiers, literature majors who work at grocery stores, etc). So arguably the states of the US pay hundreds of billions into education a year and gets no return investment for it. And even if you do get a job that is similiar to what you studied, chances are you won’t use alot of what you studied at college (only about 1/3 of the credit hours actually apply to your major, ie a philosophy degree will be 130 credit hours but only 40 hours of philosophy), and of those 40 hours only some will actually be used on the job.

In the US you can always try community college or a smaller university first. I did alot of my first 40 credit hours at Ivy Tech and IU east which are about 900 and 1600 a semester respectively. IU bloomington is about 3000 a semester. I predict alot more community colleges in the future of the US. I am guessing if things get really, really, really out of hand and college keeps increasing at 2-3x the rate of inflation perhaps someday they’ll just offer courses you need for a major and leave out all the other things (just take the 40 hours of biology and don’t take anything else and be trained as a biologist by doing that). You won’t be as well rounded but it is better than no affordable education.