About that Glorious American Model…

As followers of international politics (or just regular readers of this blog) know, the United Kingdom, like many European countries, is rethinking how it pays for college. Traditionally, higher education was free for all students. The government instituted fees for the first time in 1998. And then in December the House of Commons passed a bill to almost triple tuition at British universities.

The rhetoric behind this plan had a lot to do with making the British higher education system function more efficiently, more like, well, the American system.

But, according to Lloyd Armstrong in The Guardian this system doesn’t actually work very well. As he writes:

The private model that everyone looks to has a real structural financial flaw – costs increase annually much more than inflation or family income. Over the past 30-40 years, published tuitions and fees in the private sector in the US have increased at an average annual rate of 3% above inflation. If one subtracts out the loan component of financial aid (under the radical assumption that a loan is really a cost to the student, not a grant), one finds that increases in non-loan financial aid lessen this increase only marginally. As a result, for the average family, a private higher education costs about two and a half times as much as a percentage of family income now as it did three decades ago. This is obviously an unsustainable model over the long term, and it is already having negative effects in terms of access and student debt.

We kind of know that in America. Or at least we ought to.

Let’s put it simply: the model embraced by much of the world for the past half century, single payer, fully nationally funded higher education, is expensive and problematic.

The American model, funded by individual debt and state appropriations, is more expensive, and the recipe to keep college attendance and graduation low. So it’s not just problematic, it is, in the words of many higher education administrators, “a broken model.”

Maybe it’s time to consider going back to merely problematic.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer