Bang for Your Buck: How Much Should College Really Cost?

A couple days ago, while surfing the Internet and sitting in my living room and complaining to my roommates about how expensive college is and all the debt we’re going to graduate with (a joyous conversation, I know), I found a rather soothing article that fit our conversation perfectly. A few days ago, Lower Saxony became the last of the seven German states to abolish tuition fees entirely for college students. I nearly choked on my coffee.

In the U.S., tuition (not including room and board) at private colleges and universities averages over $30,000 but can run up to $50,000-60,000. So here we are in the United States, paying upwards of $50,000 for a college education that provides no guarantee that we’ll find a job, while in Europe, the situation is entirely different.

Raising the bar, EUROSTYLE!
Raising the bar, EUROSTYLE!

Here, even with these exorbitant bills, the money students pay does not cover all of the costs of running the schools. Private schools must make up the difference with money earned from endowments and through fund-raising. Now, I’m not naïve or ignorant; I know that, technically speaking, things are different here in the United States, and culturally, abolishing tuition fees for college students would cause an uproar; and most people say that, frankly, it just wouldn’t work here. But it’s fun to pretend.

If we take a closer look at Germany, for example, we see that tuition was never steep. At around 600 U.S. dollars, an affordable education is something that Europeans prioritized in their political agendas years ago. How does Germany manage to pay for the entire cost of higher education? It’s a very simple answer – very high income taxes, among the highest in the world. Conservatives in this country point to the Europeans and their higher taxes and just call it socialism. Here in the U.S., student loan debt is up to $1.2 trillion, with the average student graduating with almost $30,000 of debt.

Das selfie (CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MICHAEL PROBST)
Das selfie (CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MICHAEL PROBST)

So, yes, we could bring down the cost of a college education in the United States by levying a lot more tax money. But let’s face it — how many voters are going to willingly raise their taxes to bring down the cost of college? Politically, this is a non-starter. The European model would most likely not work here, in my opinion. So while one can dream about a cost-free college education, unless you’re planning on moving to Europe any time soon, it probably won’t become a reality here for quite some time — if ever. Anybody want to head to Germany?

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