Education in United States is too expensive

OlympianJuly 29, 2013 

Nations today are examining ways to improve higher education. In the United States we face shortages of doctors in the areas of internal medicine, urology and family practice to name a few specialties.

Doctors have expressed to me that medical education should be free. President Barack Obama has called for science and engineering professions, which are also greatly needed.

In all of this, there are differences to be noted in European and our higher education institutions. In Europe medical training is as rigorous as in the U.S., but is free or at lower tuition than in the United States.

Recently several U.S. universities announced tuitions of $61,000 per year, whereas in Europe, an average tuition is $13,000 per year.

European university completion in “top institutions” is as highly competitive as schools are here. Currently some universities are contemplating offering free education as in Europe. For example Portland State University just instituted free education, and it is under discussion in Washington state. Australia offers free education though some of that is required to be paid back over nine to 20 years at a fixed low interest rate. In the U.S., a lawyer completes law school $150,000 in debt, and an internist’s debt is more than $150,000.

It is rare for a European to take on debt for higher education. European education is more bureaucratic; U.S. education claims to be more innovative. Innovation comes from the requirement at bachelor’s degree level for courses in humanities and arts. At one level or another both Europe and the U.S. require a humanities/arts component.

The major difference in university free or lower cost tuition comes from the fact that some nations have increased their subsidies to higher education to 70 percent, including $10,191 increase for grants for science research. Statistics are often misleading and so with this article, I will be cautious trying to translate across time and space and different monetary systems.

Many American students go to foreign countries for education because it is cheaper in spite of the fact tuition does not cover housing, food or books. It does mean foreign students can get medical care.

Starting with United Kingdom, Germany, France, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland and Australia, higher education costs less than in the U.S. Undergraduate level is on average $321 per semester, Graduate students pay about $488 per semester.

Even as I write this a college in Toulouse, France, desiring to train more economists, is trying a flexible, American style plan. To fund education with a public/private scheme and the private part is through foundations. Our best high schools fund their programs this way.

Washington state will have to observe the experiment in Oregon at Portland State University and see whether we want to consider a similar program. Free education sounds great with no loans or limited ones to pay on graduation but almost everything has a cost and we should ask what the actual cost might be for a “free to lower cost education.”

Is it possible for Americans who are tax averse to even think about free education?

European countries are different. Even with their economic problems, they currently support taxes for a social safety net and the current free education system. Notably, Germany has one of the best programs for non-academic training, but the apprenticeship is seven years. Few Americans would tolerate that, yet we all complain when we get incompetent plumbers or medical assistants.

We should examine what other nation’s are doing as they do with us. We can learn from each other. All nations desire to educate all socioeconomic levels. Is a form of free higher education the answer? To some this will be a call for socialism, but the private sector emphasis has raised costs.

Martha J. Pierce is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. She can be reached at marbill83@comcast.net.

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