The Cost of Attending College Here and Abroad

For years, amongst other strong traits, the United States has had a monopoly on higher education. Year after year, students from small towns in rural countries and students from rich suburbs worked tirelessly to pad resumes so that they can enter the top tier universities and colleges in the US. And for good reason – judging by the enormous number of Ivy League graduates in Government and on Wall Street, it would appear to be a one way ticket to success and fortune. Though it might seem like US higher education is hitting its golden age, there are two interesting new factors that throw the proverbial wrench in the works: college is increasingly expensive and more students are studying overseas.

Graduating Students (photo by KitAy)

Graduating Students (photo by KitAy)

According to a New York Times article printed last week, between 1982 and 2007 the cost of college tuition and fees increased vastly more than the increase in median family income. Any way you look at it, this is a disturbing number. Additionally, the net costs at a four-year private university, such as the aforementioned Ivies, comprised 76 percent of the median family income. This data begs a few more questions. The most basic is where will the less wealthy and privileged American students go? Federal and university financial aid will have to increase to meet the larger demand and even so, there will still be a significant number of students who will have a tough time paying for school. In a more general sense, other questions are brought to mind. Is the time of US educational hegemony over? Will we start to see higher concentrations of foreign students here? Where will the less wealthy and privileged American students go? For this last question, there may be a new answer.

St. Andrews University Classics Building (photo by Jjhake)

St. Andrews University Classics Building (photo by Jjhake)

A week before the article highlighting raising college costs was published, the New York Times printed another article titled “Going Off to College for Less (Passport Required).”  In it, they describe a trend of students finding more affordable education outside of the United States. With the rising costs of college at home, more students might turn to programs like the one at St. Andrews, in Scotland. The article highlights the fact that attending St. Andrews costs about the same as it would to attend an out-of-state public university. With a growing number of Americans (St. Andrews has 1,230 this year, up from 200 ten years ago), foreign universities may soon be a more common option for students, especially where price may be concerned.

While more US students are going abroad for their degrees, the number of foreign students studying in the US is also increasing. The newly released IIE Open Doors 2008 Report shows a continuous increase in foreign student enrollment at US Universities (over 600,000 students for 07/08). These bring me to the final question and the final point: how bad is this? It’s harder to say. For sure, expensive higher education will tragically deter many from going to college, but if high costs unexpectedly send more students to seek degrees abroad, isn’t it also contributing to the type of diversity that administrators and students are looking for? If the goal of international education is broader understanding, sending more students abroad for full degrees is a step in the right direction. Now we just have to figure out how to ensure it’s accessible to everyone.

Links to the NYTimes Articles
“College May Become Unaffordable for Most in U.S.”
“Going Off to College for Less (Passport Required)”

1 Response to “The Cost of Attending College Here and Abroad”

  1. 1 jamesrohrbach December 12, 2008 at 4:53 am

    I think it would be a tragedy if the cost of going to college continues to rise as a percent of family income and “prices people out” of higher education. Hopefully the solution will be a combination of significantly more financial aid, government support, and more opportunities to take advantage of cost disparities and study abroad. Unfortunately, college endowments have significantly decreased in value since the start of this recession, meaning large increases in financial aid are unlikely in the near term. Hopefully, the improved exchange rate will help cover some portion of the gap by encouraging more students to pursue degrees abroad.

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Gulliver helps students Study Abroad. Our blog covers: current issues in Study Abroad; featured posts by Study Abroad students; and Gulliver updates, news, and behind-the-scenes peaks. Thanks for reading!

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