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| Published in History of Education | Written by Irene Adler

The US Education Becomes an Overpaid Luxury? Facts and Analysis

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The US Education and Democracy

In this article, we will focus on U.S. higher education, its advantages and problems.   Most likely some interesting points will touch attention and answer your questions.

From early school, every child knows that education is a right of a human. It is like the right to have decent food or a roof over your head. Clause 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that “everyone has the right to education”.

Really, education is like a passport to human evolution.

Perhaps everyone understands how it could open a lot of new opportunities, expand horizons and freedoms. It contributes to consolidating peace, democracy and economic increase, as well as bettering health and diminishing poverty. The main and may be the ultimate goal of education is constant development. In the country where democracy is widely welcomed, supported by the principles of freedom and human rights all these believes perhaps should be revered as nowhere.

Nowadays, the demand for a bachelor’s degree is very high and this is not surprising. This high value goes back to the oldest political traditions of the country. People always believed that education is necessary for maintaining democratic government. It is believed that education prepares people to full and deliberate participation in political life, including voting.

In the XVIII century, American colonies flourished. Poor people, who left England and other countries, became landowners and merchants in the New World. In Old Europe, Colleges considered as something that exists for elite (members of the wealthy “upper class”). But, in colonial America, there were no hard class traditions. Therefore, those who could afford – sent their sons (but not daughters) to colonial colleges. However, not all of these young men joined the ranks of the clergy. By the middle of the XVIII century, only half of the graduates of American colleges became priests. The other fifty percents generally elected career of lawyers, doctors and businessmen.

Over the centuries, the system has evolved and the new universities have appeared. By the end of the XIX century, the higher education system has already had characteristics similar to modern:

  • Specialization, focusing on one direction of research;
  • Many colleges and universities that used to belong to religious organizations have become private or public – institutions;
  • Most colleges and universities have become equally accessible for both men and women;
  • With the end of the Slavery Era, African-American population has also gained the opportunity to study.

But there is one parallel between history and reality. If you’re going to enter a desired university, or you have already studying there, trying to cope with the amounts of new information, assignments and tests, you will surely face some difficulties, and quite significant. You need money for the tuition or at least time to earn it. Other students already have the required resources. Don’t you find some analogy?

Earlier, in the New World, universities could afford mostly young people who didn’t have to work to feed themselves. They had enough time to reach new knowledge.

Oddly enough, but tendencies of “elitism” are preserved our times, in the developed, democratic country.  And here we are not talking about some class or racial inequalities, of course. And not everyone can continue his/her education after High School. In the middle of the problem is pricing policy for higher education institutions, poor funding, insufficient number of student places and educational grants. Tuition fees in universities increase every year. But the middle class citizens’ incomes – don’t.

According to the 2011 survey, 75% of Americans believe that college has become prohibitively expensive. Indirectly, this may indicate the number of foreign students. Over the past 10 years, the number of foreign students has dropped in United States from 23% to 16% of the global proportion. But here could be another explanation, such as tightening of migration processes.

As it has been said before, university diploma is considered to be a very important part of the educational program. For some professions as – law, medicine, teaching, engineering majors – education that is given in college is a necessary first step. More than 60% of Americans work as teachers, programmers, lawyers, employees of banks, as well as in other areas related to detection, exchange and use of data. High school diploma does not provide sufficient knowledge for most of these activities.

In order to do business, is not necessarily to finish college, but many young Americans believe that university degree from the first steps will help them to get higher salary. Isn’t it? From the US Census Bureau, the median salary of a person who has only a high school diploma is $ 27,968; the median salary of a person who has a bachelor’s degree is $ 47,355.

Perhaps, this simple statistics forces a family with an average income, having two children, to borrow up to $ 120,000, only to enable kids to study during four years at a private university. Maybe, it makes both parents from low-paid families to take extra work, donate all their time to ensure their three children studying at the University of the State, where academic year is $ 40,000. Possibly, it makes a forty-year old woman to quit her job and spend all her savings for college and get the education she couldn’t get in her youth.

Next, we will do a little comparison with the pricing policy of the Old World’s colleges.

Traditionally, in the most prestigious universities of Britain and Switzerland, tuition fees are not small. For example, in England, they range between 10,000 £ and 16,000 £ per year.  But if you look at France, Austria, Germany or Netherlands, whose higher education institutions are not inferior to backgrounds quality level, then: France – 5,000 €, Germany – 3,000 €, Austria – 4500 €, Netherlands – 7000 €, Italy – 5,800 €. The average prices of the countries listed above are also shown for one academic year. Compare how much you have to pay for a year of study…

For the last 10 years, most of all prices shot up in three sectors in the United States: Fuel and Energy industry, Medical Care and College tuitions. It is almost clear with the fuel situation, but the other 2 areas rose in price solely because of internal reasons. It can be assumed, that the rising cost of Medicine and Higher Education could be linked. Let’s analyze it.

In the transition to post-industrial society, the demand for higher education is sharply increased. But the U.S΄s system was too conservative. The number of student’s places in universities grows slowly, so it is logical that the increase in tuition fees is well ahead of inflation. All this fully applies to medical education. Because of the high prices for this specialty there is a lack of professional doctors, the number of medical universities does not grow. Doctors’ revenues have reached very large sizes. Hence, the soaring prices for medical care. We can assume that if the country could produce more young professionals – the price for medical care could be significantly reduced.

Whatever the factors of price increase, citizens are faced with objective gap between the cost of education and disposable income. People who are on low incomes each year have more and more complexity to provide their children quality education. As the result – total cost of higher education for the period of 1999-2010 increased by 84%!

According to statistics: one of seven highly talented school graduates doesn’t enter college because of the high cost for education and difficulties in obtaining the educational grant. Indeed, not so much of study grants are allocated for talented students who are not able to pay for education. In addition, as a general rule, student pays not only for his or her education but also for campus accommodation, and food.

Regarding to Compulsory Education, no other country in the world expends on elementary school so much resource as the United States. Over the past decade, public costs on pupils education increased from $ 11 billion to $ 147.9 billion!!! (Read also: The Educational Role Of Movies)

Another problem of the US higher education is the ability of students to finish college or university. And the reason is not because of the problems with discipline, intellectual ability, or lack of thirst for knowledge.

Severe dropout system allows to complete education up to graduation only 58% of university enrolled.  Such a significant drop-out can’t be interpreted unequivocally: on the one hand, the quality of graduates without a doubt is very high, because survive the best. On the other hand, gifted students without sufficient funding have to work. And as it has been said before it takes a lot of time harmfully for studying science. To this all are added problems of personal and family matters. Do you feel some force imbalance?

More than half of early dropout students do not have time to cope with one of the most important part of higher educational program – term paper writing. Internet is full of sites which provide help in writing academic papers. Although, these companies offer enough high-quality service, the United States is the 4-th place in the list of developed countries by number of dropouts.

So, what do we have in the end?

Despite all changes, which have occurred since the formation of American democratic system of government, higher education is still considered as something intended for elite, for the richest, or at least for those, who can afford not to work for a college period. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to enter doors of desired university. Maybe our highly democratic government quite satisfied with the standard, partial, average educational level of citizens and potential voters?