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College Costs in the US, Abroad

March 11, 2008

by Paulina Mis

In February, attorney and father James Brady filed a lawsuit against Wheaton College for having charged the family a Wheaton-sized tuition bill during his daughter’s stay abroad. He estimated about $4,500 could have been saved had his daughter been billed for the cost of her South African university tuition. If European students heard the story, they too may have been upset—at the outrageous cost of a South African education.

It comes as no surprise that, even as the dollar weakens against its European counterparts, a college education is still most expensive in the United States. US students who study at four-year public colleges pay an average tuition of $6,185 per year; ones who study at private colleges pay $23,710. According to an article published by the Associated Press, book costs, room & board, living expenses and myriad university fees raise these numbers to $13,589 and $32,307 respectively.

While students abroad undoubtedly have problems of their own, paying for college is unlikely to top the charts. It’s still not uncommon for countries to provide a tuition-free education for all, with a reasonable length-of-study limit and minor fees. When you study in Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Norway or Sweden, you can breeze through school with bills that vary from small to nonexistent. In a number of more expensive areas, it may cost you a few thousand dollars. Even then, the government is likely to offer some sort of compensation grant.

US students don't leave their tuition problems behind after graduation. In fact, the problems often get worse. About two-thirds of students borrow to complete a college education. Those who borrow leave school with an average debt of about $19,000. Students who go to private schools and ones who stay for another degree are increasingly taking out student loans that exceed $100,000.

While it’s not unheard of for international students to borrow for an education, lower costs mean lower burdens. Oftentimes, income-contingent repayment plans and federal grants offered in exchange for good school performance are an option for struggling students. Comparable opportunities are few and far between for US students. Instead, many overwhelmed students return home again financially dependent on their parents.

That is not to say that tuition hasn't been growing elsewhere, with the United Kingdom being a prime example. In 1998, some college students in the UK were asked to pay for their education, a change that had students taking to the streets in protest.  For the 2007-2008 school year, the UK tuition cap was controversially increased to £3,070 ($6,155), a price that would still make private universities blush, one that would make James Brady rethink his lawsuit. 

Rising tuition may not be uncommon, but we have perfected the trend. Unfortunately, legislation cannot be willed into action. Until federal Pell Grants increase significantly and tuition costs drop dramatically, students can look to college scholarships and grants for assistance. By completing a free college scholarship search, students can find information about numerous awards they may be eligible to receive.


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