Jill’s post about rising college tuition concentrates on private schools, but public schools are subject to the same problem. In this academic year, an average four-year American public university costs $6,778 in-state and $16,725 out-of-state; this represents a 6.3% rise over last year, the lowest rise in five years. Since the vast majority of college students go to state schools, that rise is the definitive problem with skyrocketing tuition, rather than NYU’s overpriced fees.
It’s mostly an American (and British) phenomenon that the best universities are private rather than public. In Japan, the top universities are all national; in France, the grandes écoles are public and charge no tuition, while only recently has the German Supreme Court given states the right to charge tuition at their universities.
In the US, these universities only exist in California, where tuition was traditionally rock-bottom and state funding of education was lush. New York’s City College used to be just as elite, until civil rights activists with insufficient sense forced an open doors admission policy on it; but note that its magnet high schools, which still have merit-based admission, are still top-notch.
Mind you, free tuition comes with problems. Fortunately, there are enough countries with free tuition that it’s straightforward to tell where they come from and how to eliminate them. Sweden guarantees free tuition plus a living expense stipend to every student for ten years. Not surprisingly, Sweden has a large pool of people who stay in school for many years simply because they can’t find jobs – at least, that’s the only conclusion I can draw from the fact that school enrollment among Swedes ages 20-24 went up from 11% to 19% of the population from 1990 to 1993, precisely when the Swedish economy crashed.
In Germany, people similarly stay in school for years on end. Although Germany is less generous with welfare for students than Sweden, it has an extremely unstructured educational system. This offers students more freedom to choose their curriculum than even in the US, which itself has a pretty unstructured system by French or British standards, but the flip side is that without any limit on the length of the course, it’s attractive for students to take forever to graduate.
In contrast, French elite universities have yet to lose their edge. I’m not sure whether the University of Tokyo charges ¥500,000/year to everyone or just to international students, but either way it’s cheaper than Berkeley, which charges $7,800 in-state and $26,500 out-of-state not including books.
I understand the impetus to charge exorbitant fees – nobody likes spending tax money – but it’s a lot easier to subsidize students than to later subsidize young professionals who have insurmountable debt payments. The US pays doctors three times as much as France not just because it has a private health care system and a doctors’ guild that does its best to limit the labor supply, but also because doctors finish med school with six-figure debts. And, as Jill notes, debt payments deter many college graduates from low-income families from continuing to professional schools.