by James A. Bacon
Imagine a college or university stripped down to its essentials: inculcating its students with a body of knowledge and critical thinking skills. Imagine no basketball teams, no dormitories, no gymnasium, no frills. Imagine professors who spend most of their time teaching by delivering lectures in large auditoriums, not engaging in the publish-or-perish rat race. Imagine a college that doesn’t support vast bureaucracies to sort through student admissions, promote economic development or minister to the latest government concerns about diversity, sexual assault and binge drinking.
Then, imagine that institution offering free tuition to everyone meeting the admittance criteria, and students graduating without $25,000-plus in student loan debt.
There are no universities like that in the United States, certainly not Virginia. But that’s pretty much what the German higher education system looks like.
In a fascinating article in Marketplace, Kirk Carapezza profiles the University of Cologne, Germany’s largest university, with 48,000 students. The university includes a law school and medical school. The average cost of an undergraduate degree in Germany is $32,000, which the German government provides for free.
Here in Virginia, VCU students will pay $63,000 in tuition and fees (assuming 2015 rates stay constant, which they won’t), with the result that many will carry tens of thousands of dollars in student debt when they graduate (assuming they do graduate). And they will pay that astronomical sum despite the fact that the Commonwealth of Virginia pays $27,000 per student this year in state support at VCU — only $5,000 per student per year shy of what it costs Germany to educate its students for free!
The problem in Virginia, as in the rest of the United States, is not that the state fails to support higher education, it’s that colleges and universities have let costs run totally out of control. Here are some of the ways the University of Cologne differs from the U.S. system while still managing to provide a quality of education commensurate with one of the world’s leading economies:
- Campus. The University of Cologne doesn’t lavish money on architectural extravagance. Buildings are bland and utilitarian.
- Room and board. The University of Cologne doesn’t have dormitories and food courts. Students live off campus.
- Garages. No garages at the University of Cologne — but there is ample parking for bicycles.
- Big time sports. Sorry, sports fans, no football teams, no, basketball teams, no Title IX athletic programs, and no athletic facilities needed to support them.
- Faculty. Professors teach more than American professors, earn less and spend more time handling administrative tasks, which keeps down administrative bloat.
- Campus activities. Nope, no active student clubs.
- Administration. The article doesn’t address this, but I would conjecture that it’s a factor: Germans don’t have the obsession with race, ethnicity and gender that has given rise to a vast “diversity” administrative apparatus in the U.S. And the non-residential experience probably avoids the problems arising from America’s alcohol-fueled hookup culture that generates so many charges of sexual assault, along with the attendant bureaucracy to deal with it.
Bacon’s bottom line: I’m not suggesting that Virginia switch wholesale to the German model. If people are willing to pay a premium to attend the University of Virginia, or even VCU, then they should be allowed to. But Virginia’s system of higher education also should provide a stripped-down educational option focusing on academics that enables students to forego the “residential experience” in exchange for vastly lower tuition and fees. It works for the Germans. It could work for us, too.
(Hat tip: Don Rippert.)There are currently 1 comments highlighted: 116863.