Funding for higher education is becoming a problem, both in the United States and in Europe. As Debra Humphreys, the Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, writes:

In the United States, in statehouse after statehouse, funding for higher education continues to be cut. Debates in Washington continue—and include proposals to cut funding for Pell Grants and for subsidies of student loans while students are in college. (To his credit, President Obama seemed to draw a line in the sand on this latest proposal, saying he wasn’t “going to take money from old people and screw students.”)

Reflecting on this dismal state of affairs in light of my recent study tour of EU universities, I can’t help but note that European higher education faces similar challenging circumstances.

“Similar challenging” perhaps, though not exactly equivalent. In much of Europe higher education has been—and continues to be—free since the 1940s. In the United States public higher education was briefly very cheap and is now very expensive. We occasionally have debates about how much to hike tuition. In Europe, they debate whether to charge tuition at all.

Still, the global economic recession matters for higher education funding in a similar way. As Humphreys writes:

In Europe, of course, there is a long tradition of higher education being fully supported by the state…. The Greek constitution, in fact, guarantees that higher education will be free to Greek citizens. One wonders where Greece will get the money to continue this commitment. And it is entirely unclear where European countries, many of which face dramatic fiscal crises, will find the money to continue their own generous policies, never mind supporting expanded access to more citizens, however essential that is deemed to be for economic growth. There is very little appetite in either Europe or the United States for increasing taxes in order to fund higher education institutions.

So it seems like in both Europe and the United States there’s a lot of talk about increasing access to higher education but not much money available to actually make that happen.

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