Thursday, June 17, 2010
Some Thoughts on Higher Education: Germany vs. the US**
**By request, I've edited the post
While I’m over the fact that Germans pay somewhere between 0- 500 Euros a semester to attend university (depending on which state they are attending school), what I want to know, is what are Americans paying so much for? Are we really getting that much better of an education? Or are we paying for status?
America believes in the ideal that education is a universal right, yet we also tend to promote, unconsciously that debt is too. We say everyone is allowed to have an education, but we all have to be willing to pay (and quite a bit) for it. Where as in Germany, its not so. They don’t allow everyone to get a university degree, only the top students are and before you all start an uproarious demonstration about equality and education for all, the fact that if one meets the state’s requirements to enter a university in Germany, I believe education is a lot more accessible than the American university system which basically lets everyone in, but only on the condition one can (and will for many years) pay for it . While I understand the controversy that goes along with this due to the cyclical disadvantages it puts children of former Hauptschule students in (they rarely advance to higher education, hence following the footsteps of their parents)—however this is not the issue I want to address. We’ll save the Hauptschule debate for another day.
If you qualify for Financial Aid here in Germany, students can borrow a maximum of 10,000 Euros, interest free, from the government, half of which they never have to pay back. That’s right folks, no Sallie Mae, demanding huge chunks of recently graduated, barely employed young people’s paychecks. In addition, the majority of German students tend to focus solely on studying when they study, whereas its not uncommon for most American college students to be juggling one or two jobs in addition to school work in order to pay the $5,000+ (if you’re lucky) tuition bill each semester.
In addition to all that money we’re paying, many of us graduating with a degree in Humanities or Liberal Arts are leaving school with an atrocious amount of debt and yet very little "employable skills" in terms of the expectations of employers. If you really want to pursue professionalisation in a specialized field within the US system, you still need to apply for internships (which usually pays nothing, unlike the Germans who pay a minimum of 500 Euros a month for a required internships) or you have to continue your education doing a Master’s degree, which again prolongs the amount of time and the size of debt you owe upon graduation.
I recently applied for a Masters Program in Germany--whether I will go or not, isn't the issue, but I just want to express to Americans what a difference in cost we're talking about here. The tuition of the entire degree program I applied for, costs less than one semester of my undergrad degree. That’s right kids, for about 2,000 Euros, a university is willing to allow me to study for a MA. The average price for a Masters degree in the States at the moment is around $25,000, even higher if it’s a professional degree. Why the difference in price tag? Can we really say that the US system is so much better, or the quality of education is that much higher? I’m not so sure.
One thing I do appreciate about the US system however, is its flexibility. If I study Mathematics for example, that doesn't mean that I can only ever work in a field closely related to what I studied. In Germany, its very difficult (some say impossible) to get work outside of what you specialized in or studied. So in this respect, I value the American system--however, that still doesn't mean the price of education should cripple or burden young adults through their twenties and into their thirties.
Anyone care to shed some light or cast some criticism or comments my way?
What are we paying for?