Parker Molloy
October 14, 2014 9:14 am

As the U.S. edges past the $1.2 trillion (with a “t”) student loan debt threshold, Germany did something awesome: it abolished tuition fees at all public universities. While it’s hardly the first country to do so (public universities in Luxembourg, Norway, and Argentina also don’t require tuition), Germany’s decision to empower all citizens with the ability to receive a college education makes it one of the most high profile countries to take this step post-recession.

It also means that Americans who are strapped for cash can consider hopping a plane abroad for a free education. The school system is totally open to international students. Of course, you’ll have to learn German, but it’s a cool option that, hopefully, sends a message to some other countries (cough, cough) with super-high tuition fees.

Up until 2006, German universities were all tuition-free. It wasn’t until the German Constitutional Court ruled that the concept of fees, buoyed by student loans, did not conflict with the country’s commitment to provide citizens with universal education. Soon after, a number of states began adopting fees, only to later waive them as the move — to essentially create a capitalism-based system of education — proved to be hugely unpopular with the people of Germany. Earlier this month, Lower Saxony became the last of the seven German states to have experimented with fees to finally give in, abolishing these costs.

“We got rid of tuition fees because we do not want higher education which depends on the wealth of the parents,” Gabrielle Heinen-Kjajic, the minister for science and culture in Lower Saxony, said in a statement.

“Tuition fees are unjust,” said Hamburg senator for science Dorothee Stepelfeldt, lauding the decision. “They discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.”

Even under the previous, tuition-based system, German students faced a much more reasonable burden when compared to their British and American counterparts, with semester fees averaging just €500 ($630). The maximum tuition for British students translates to around $14,550 per year, and U.S. students face an average tuition of $23,066 per year.

Oddly, taking lead from the Germans might be the best move for the U.S. government. Annually, the federal government spends more than $100 billion subsidizing student loans and another $69 billion subsidizing education, itself. When you factor in that tuition at state universities totals just around $60 billion annually, making college education free and available for all might be the most financially reasonable approach to solving the increasingly unsustainable education crisis faced in the U.S.

While speaking at Inc.’s GrowCo conference, billionaire Mark Cuban stated the fixing the U.S. economy must begin with assessment of the current trillion-dollar student loan crisis, suggesting that we cap the amount of loans students are allowed to take in at $10,000 annually, which would, in turn, put pressure on universities to control the rising costs of tuition.

“That’s the same money that, when you graduated, you used to move out of the house or you went out and spent money that improved the economy and helped companies grow,” he told the audience.

While policymakers, economists, and rogue billionaires toss around hypotheses about how to approach the U.S.’s student loan struggles, it seems Germany has their answer: making college attainable to all who seek it.

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