Free college-for-all may sound like a dream come true for some, including many in the the Obama Administration, but it’s not all that’ it’s cracked up to be, as Germany’s finding out.
In October, Lower Saxony became the last German state to say “nein” to college tuition and fees. The unreliability if individuals’ personal fortunes, not to mention cold, hard market forces, makes government dependence for one’s higher education a much more stable and humane policy approach. At least, that was the predominant thinking. As Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand reports, government dependency isn’t so reliable or dreamy after all:
Germany began guaranteeing in the 1970s that every graduate of a Gymnasium — the country's most academically rigorous type of high school — would be entitled to a place in a university paid for entirely by the state, The New York Times reported.
University enrollment increased, but government funding for universities did not. As of 2008, Germans spent only 4.7% of their gross domestic product on higher education, compared with the international average of 5.9%.
What’s more, while government has stepped in concerning tuition and fees it has not stepped up in terms of the full cost of attending college, including housing—and the idea of privatizing housing would be virtually unthinkable in such a socialist paradise. As Bertrand continues:
Tuition-free university has made education in Germany more accessible, and demand for a German college education has increased both domestically and internationally: foreign enrollment in German universities reached a record high this year.
But without the extra funding provided by these fees, German universities have been unable to build more classrooms or train more teachers to accommodate this higher demand, the Economist reported back in 2011.
German universities also have a hard time finding places for their students to live, Inside Higher Ed reported last year. There are around 400,000 new students every year and only about 230,000 places to house them, the report noted. This leads to scenarios where multiple students live in a single room.
There’s nothing humane about government dependency. At best, it’s a broken promise.
A better policy approach is ensuring proper incentives so students, postsecondary institutions, the private sector, and government maximize opportunity and quality, while keeping costs down.