Education, recent

Free University Tuition: A Cautionary Note from Germany

Some American presidential candidates have endorsed free tuition for American public universities. It’s an understandable demand. I attended private and public American universities and had the eye-watering student loans to prove it. However, my experience teaching at German universities for over a decade introduced me to some of the tuition-free model’s drawbacks, many of which may not be obvious to outsiders.

Drastically simplified, the German model is as follows: in their early teen years, the brightest German students are sent to the most prestigious form of German high school, the Gymnasium. Currently, over 50 percent of German students earn this privilege (this number has jumped in the last 30 years, prompting charges of grade inflation). Gymnasium graduates with reasonable grades are guaranteed a place in a German university; there is no entrance exam. 95 percent of German students attend public universities, where they are charged fees, but not formal tuition. All professors at public universities are civil servants. Needy students can apply for a modest stipend. After graduation, students must pay back one-half of the amount, beginning 5 years after graduation. The total repayment amount is capped at €10,000.

The system is popular with students, for obvious reasons. However, many education officials and professors crave the financial flexibility granted by tuition fees. In 2005, the federal government passed a law allowing German states to charge tuition, and some states started doing so, generally charging well under €1000 per year. However, large-scale strikes and protests by students and allies eventually forced a policy change, and no German state now charges formal tuition. Supporters of the tuition-free system note that 65 percent of Germans say university should be tuition-free, “even if this means the quality of education is slightly worse.” Reasons for this support include a long history of exclusionary patrician education in Germany, and Germans’ ingrained aversion to debt. The system also gives students extra freedom: you can study art history or sociology, knowing that you won’t be hounded by creditors if you later find only spotty employment. Tuition-free universities are also seen as an important tool for social mobility, although the picture is more complex, as we will see.

Yet the tuition-free system also has disadvantages. The first difference an American will notice is that most German universities look dingy and threadbare. Many were erected hastily in the 1960s and 1970s to house new students brought in by liberalizing reforms, and these cheap, poorly maintained structures are notoriously ugly (a German magazine recently ran a feature on “German Universities Ranked by Ugliness”). Most classrooms still feature rigid wooden or metal desks bolted into rows. Wireless coverage, library stocks, laboratory gear and classroom A/V equipment lag far behind the average American state university. It’s still possible to arrive to give a lecture and find an overhead projector awaiting your transparencies. Professors’ salaries are much lower than in the United States, and Germany’s problem with “adjunctification” and precarious conditions for aspiring scholars (known by the German neologism Prekarisierung) is becoming as urgent as it is in the United States.

This bare-bones regime also dominates student life and counseling. German universities are sink-or-swim: if you have scholarly or personal problems while studying, help will come only from overburdened counselors with hundreds of cases, or from student volunteers. Along with lax admissions standards, this fact helps explain the high dropout rates; one-third of all students who enroll in German universities never finish. A recent OECD study found that only 28.6 percent of Germans aged between 25 and 64 had a tertiary education degree, as compared to 46.4 percent of Americans (although classification issues mean these numbers must be handled with care). This chronic lack of resources—in addition to the understandable fact that many outstanding German scholars publish in German—also helps explain why German universities punch below their weight in international rankings, a topic of obsessive concern to German politicians.

Eliminating tuition also means that universities become more like primary schools, or public utilities. This changes the dynamic in subtle ways. Universities will become more vulnerable to funding decisions by agencies, leading to more intrusive control and bureaucracy. Gather any group of German professors, and talk will immediately turn to the burgeoning bureaucracy which distracts them from teaching and research. This changed dynamic also makes it harder to get funding from alumni and third parties. Would you donate to the local sewage treatment plant? Hardly; these things should be funded from tax revenue and, of course, user fees. Making universities fully state-supported also raises a host of issues under competition and public-utilities law. For this reason (among others) naming buildings or professorships after private donors is still fairly uncommon at German public universities, and “executive education” or outreach courses may be banned or regulated to prevent unfair competition with private-sector offerings.

Tuition fees also serve as a buffer to interference from politicians who disapprove of controversial course offerings; after all, if students (or parents) choose to pay thousands of dollars to have their children indoctrinated with “left-wing propaganda,” that’s their business. When the state foots the entire bill, however, politicians will have that much more incentive to demand oversight and explanations. Some will surely object to professors’ and deans’ “inflated” salaries, decry “bloated” administrative budgets, and pillory professors with unpopular views. German professors are shielded from explicitly political interference by the principle of academic freedom—enshrined in Article 5 of the German Constitution—and by Germany’s history of self-governing universities. American professors enjoy free speech rights, of course, but lack these powerful shields against interference.

Tuition-free universities also have problems with student motivation. Most Americans who teach ordinary classes in Germany find average German students somewhat less motivated than their dues-paying American counterparts. The top third of motivated students would succeed anywhere, and the bottom third, as we have seen, drop out to join Germany’s justly admired system of technical colleges or apprenticeships. The key group is in the middle: these “average” students are just less committed than American students. Cheating is rampant, and students often brazenly chat during lectures. Exam day invariably brings out dozens of new faces never seen in class before. Students often asked me what the test would be about, and told me they felt entitled to this information. In all my years teaching thousands of students, only about 40, in total, ever voluntarily came by to ask about the course material. Of course, these problems also exist among American undergraduates, but, subjectively, they seemed more pronounced in Germany. Human nature ordains that, all other things being equal, you will care more about something you have to pay for.

Supporters of the tuition-free model claim it fosters social mobility. Yet the proportion of German university students whose parents were “well” or “very well” educated rose from 36 percent in 1991 to 52 percent in 2016, raising the question of whether free university study—especially in financially rewarding areas such as finance, law, or medicine—is often just a gift from taxpayers to the (grateful) middle class. A recent study found that parental wealth still plays a crucial role in social mobility in Germany—and the effect was even stronger there than in the USA. There are, evidently, many factors besides tuition that drive success at university. The sink-or-swim ethos of German universities means that students who are the first in their families to attend university get little or no help, while children of graduates have been groomed for university from a young age. The picture is not all gloom, of course: German universities are increasingly diverse places, and there are thousands of success stories involving students from modest backgrounds. However, the absence of tuition, specifically, does not seem to be the driving factor. An ambitious student will find a way to cope with modest tuition.

American university tuition is too high, and reform is necessary. But reformers should pause before endorsing an absolute ban on tuition. It is unlikely to broaden opportunity as much as they think, and it triggers a host of unintended consequences that will only become evident after the system is in place.

 

Andrew Hammel is a US-educated lawyer, writer, and translator living in Düsseldorf, Germany. He taught Anglo-American law and comparative law at the University of Düsseldorf from 2003 until 2016, and has taught classes and seminars at many German universities. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewHammel1

 

103 Comments

  1. Daniel says

    Torpedo the system. It’s a swamp. My graduate school experience (at a Big XII school) was bafflingly ridiculous. In a class on Curriculum Development — useful for a teacher, wouldn’t you think? — we never discussed how to develop a curriculum, but spent the whole time listening to the professor drone on and on about “hegemony”. In another class we put together wood puzzles. One professor would regularly have 15-minute “breaks” so he could slip out and drink. I kid you not.

    Get rid of federally-issued student loans. Have the schools issue their own damn loans, and permit students to declare bankruptcy. Schools will rapidly discover which departments are superfluous. Yes, it will be chaos, but I dream of some day seeing a former professor on a street corner with a cardboard sign “Will teach intersectional hegemony for food”. A compelling vision, I think you’ll agree.

    • Lydia says

      Daniel, Tell me about it! It’s ridiculous. My experience with masters of education programs: the useful stuff they cover could be wrapped up in a 2-week professional development course. It’s certainly not worth $20,000! It’s a scam.

    • IssacNewton says

      Seems a reasonable suggestion. 🙂

    • mnemos says

      @Daniel – Your last image is priceless!

    • scubajim says

      Great ideas. I think they should change the law for current student loans to reduce the amount (above a certain loan amount reduce it by 15% ) and make the schools eat that reduction. Give the schools the haircut.

  2. Respek Wahmen says

    “Wenn die Hälfte eines Jahrgangs Abitur macht, kippt etwas.” – some Swiss guy

    Solution for everyone: be more like Switzerland? Still free (essentially), but with higher standards.

    So seinfeld-wax-like-figure Santorum was right. Stop being snobs. Trump even set this up:

    https://www.apprenticeship.gov/

    The fewer people that go to University the better.

    • Jackson Howard says

      Keep in mind that the swiss system is quite flexible in the sense that on can do an apprenticeship and the latter on do a professional matura to get in engineering school. Something that is really hard to do in other systems. There is also a Mastery level that one can reach after an apprenticeship that is more or less equivalent to a master degree, but is nearly purely practice focused.

      Also, apprenticeship can get you into decent paying jobs, and doing a job requiring a bachelor often pay in the same range. This means that the invectives and pressure to make into higher education is lower.

      An other thing to know is that swiss federal tech schools are very much orientated on practical work and often tie in with internship in engineering companies.

      What I’m saying is that the swiss system has a lot of lateral paths and crossovers, and tend to give a lot more value to non higer ed paths than in other countries. This used to also be the case in France in the past, but credentialism and getting the right grades in the right schools has destroyed a lot of the old apprenticeship system.

      • Ben Szemere says

        Why not use Learning Management Systems. Why not? You see the lectures live or recorded.It might be a chance for people to learn at their own pace to at the pace of the class. You can get the “experts” right there. There will wont the need for more dorms, You can do the test on line and the questions can be random from a pool of questions. Instead of hard cover books , you put them online using .pdf. You get immediate feedback. Tuition might go down in price. You will not have to build out the campus. You can get the best of all worlds. You take a great class from Harvard and tech classes at Carrnigie-Mellon. Maybe a course at MIT and one from a school class from a smaller collage that maybe better than the Ivy League schools. The answer maybe delivery.

      • Camo fish says

        These are weak arguments. I would much rather go to a school with overhead transparencies and bolted down metal desks than have to pay thousands of dollars in tuition. Also of note: my Canadian university had those things and I still had to pay tuition.

        If there isn’t money for student counseling, then charge for counseling sessions for those who need them.

        What are students doing after dropping out? Are they pursuing other education that better suits their goals? I’m currently taking an 8 week government funded French course. Three weeks in, I will be dropping out because the content isn’t practical enough (advanced written grammar is useless to me when I can’t follow simple spoken French). I found another more practical course to take instead. It’s easy to do since I didn’t pay a large tuition fee upfront. But the government’s goal – and mine – is for me to learn french, not to finish the course, and the flexibility of free tuition is helping me accomplish that.

  3. I was lucky enough to benefit from free university tuition in the UK in the 1980s.

    The case against as made here seems very weak indeed.

    • The case is simple: why should I pay for you to go to college, especially if the odds are that you won’t even finish?

      • Ryan says

        I am against free tuition and I find this weak.

        First, I am not sure if German universities are really less selective. I know some programs have long waiting lists, and an Arbitur, is in general harder than just graduating from High School in the states.

        However, the main argument against free tuition is that it is regressive. Even poor people who receive a university degree are going to earn more money than those who don’t have a degree. A needs based loan would allow a poor person to attend Uni, and then pay it back when they can afford it. They will just have to wait before they buy that Mercedes.

    • AJ says

      I also benefitted from free tuition in the UK but the big difference from then is the huge increase in numbers.

      The cost of free tuition is substantially greater.
      Less obviously the average standard of undergraduates has declined sharply. The capability for independant, novel work that was assumed for a bachelors degree in the 80s is now somewhere between a masters degree and PhD. I don’t think the standard of say an Oxbridge natural sciences or engineering undergraduate has declined but that the standard of an average science or engineering graduate has massively declined so that the same qualification covers people with qualitatively different capabilities. I could accept funding practical degrees for the top few percent. What makes no sense is funding degrees for everyone the vast majority being in pointless subjects. I don’t think that the majority of degrees studied benefits the student or the country.

      • David of Kirkland says

        There’s no cream if you homogenize. There’s no value if it’s free. Accomplishments are diminished when they are handed to you.

        • tommy mc donnell says

          that is the purpose of the everyone should go to college people. it is to destroy the quality of education. college was suppose to be an institution of higher education. if everyone goes to college, college becomes elementary school.

      • Charlie says

        Entrance standards for universities have declined since 1920 when Oxford stopped requiring Greek. By the 1960s, universities no longer required Latin. The Oxbridge Exams , university scholarships and scholarship papers ( above A Level ) were basically fist year degree standards . This meant Oxbridge/ Imperial completed a degree in two years, the third year was a masters. The four year degrees of Greats at Oxford and Maths at Cambridge ( Part III of the Maths Tripos ) produced people who were capable of lecturing. This system of rigorous selection and training meant people could earn a doctorate by the age of 22 years , for example Bill Penney , Rector of IC. Combining O Levels with CSEs to form GSCEs lowered standards. The old O Levels included calculus and the exam could be taken one to two years early. The old French O Levels included translating Moliere and Divinity translating from Greek. This meant by the time people started Physics and Chemistry A Levels they had studied calculus for one to two years which enabled rapid learning of the numerical aspects of these subjects.Rigorous selection and training produced quick and cheap university education suitable for 5-10% of the population. Those passing S Levels – State scholarships were given free university education but this was discontinued in 1962.

        It is not how long one spends at university but how quickly one achieves high standards.
        Lowering standards has increased employment for those teachers not able enough to teach to Oxbridge Entrance Exams and for academics to lecture Oxbridge/Imperial.

        There is no reason why governments could not introduce exams of the standards of the old s Levels and those obtaining at least 2 S 1s Grades be given free university STEM education. If compulsory Latin, Greek and French Papers of Oxbridge Entrance /S Level standards had to be passed for all arts/humanities degrees, universities would once again be centres of academic excellence and it may be possible to offer free education.

        When examining German and Swiss Technical education , three years can be spent training someone to be a shop assistant and craftsmen are trained to technician standards of English speaking countries. In Germany and Switzerland there are the ethics of completing work to the highest standards. If one examines, the English speaking world there are vast swathes of the populace, especially within inner city areas, who lack the Swiss work ethic.
        One can take a horse to water but one cannot make it drink and all training des is cut and polish the stone . If people lack the craftsmen’s eye for detail and the willingness to endure prolonged, critical and rigorous training, then high standards will not be achieved.

    • tommy mc donnell says

      your education wasn’t free you just made someone else have to work to pay for it. and I just know your an anti-slavery advocate except when it benefits you. did you ever think to ask those people if they wanted to work to pay for your “free” education?

      • Charlie says

        Tommy . Up to the 1960s/70s one could attend night school to study for professional exams – degree standard in engineering, chemistry, law, accountancy, surveying or undertake external degrees of London University. Engineer such as Mitchell- Spitfire, Camm- Hurricane, De Havilland- Mosquito, Chadwick- Lancaster, Wallis- Wellington, Bouncing Bomb, Tall Boy, swing wing technology took these routes. There used to be academic scholarships to pay fees for grammar and public schools and to attend universities, an example of someone travelling this route was Frederick Page, The aeronautical engineer.

        Officers were trained by MN, RN, Army and RAF and if good enough sent to university. The top 50% of Woolwich were to Cambridge. The RAF sent Whittle to Cambridge.

        Basically Britain has lowered academic standards; removed scholarships, apprenticeships and evening study whereby craftsmen/technicians can study degree level subjects. This has removed routes for poorer people entering the proessional middle classes with large debts. Many engineers did not have B.Sc after their name but were Chartered . The Part 2 exam was often considered tougher than many degrees , especially the Ins of Mech Eng.

        Shakespeare, Austen, Brontes, Elliot, Gaskell, Dickens Kipling, Orwell, Woodehouse, Churchill all wrote works of literature yet left education by the age of eighteen years.

        Education is not about time or money spent but about how quickly high standards are achieved . If one examines apprenticeships which led to chartership, most boys would have let school at 16 years of age with good O Levels. They would attend night school 5 days a week for 3-4 hrs and probably passed their Part 2 at 21-23 years of age. Much of the day at school and university is not productive and there are long holidays. At night school, polys were open about 45 weeks a year. The time spent in a year at lectures/lab at night school is very similar to full time university because terms are much longer. The long holidays at university come from the days when undergrads had to return home for the harvest. Most academics research is of little value so this could be curtailed. The vast majority of the arts/humanities degrees could closed without a loss to civilisation. If one looks at the great writers of the English language , Austen, Dickens, Brontes, Elliot and Gaskell none since 1945 match them, yet millions have attended university. In many ways we are going through the second phase of the Industrial revolution so where is the author who is writing the modern version of Middlemarch?

        Engineers who were trained via apprenticeship/night school C.Eng route understood the practical, theoretical and man management.: they were not members of a mandarin class living in ivory towers.

  4. I wonder how many American advocates of free tuition would be happy with adopting the German model in which students are channelled toward higher education — or away from it — before they even get into high school.

    • Heike says

      That system is a non-starter. It would be sued out of existence for racism on day 1.

      Add to that the fact that a university degree is a class marker more than anything. “Educated people want to be around educated people,” I heard before. What this means is excluding and ostracizing anyone who doesn’t have a bachelor’s. Their resumes get tossed in the trash without looking. “It’s not a culture fit” we’re told. What it really means is that the rest of society is regarded as The Other.

  5. Wendelin Reich says

    As someone who has studied in Germany and taught in another country without tuition (Sweden), I find the arguments put forth in this article very weak. Old chairs, ugly buildings – really? I’ve seen my share of ugly buildings (as well as beautiful ones) at American elite schools. That’s not what kept the good students out…

    Also, a word of caution about ‘unmotivated’ students. As the author rightly points out, German universities are much less selective than American ones. So compared to any of the top 100 US schools, any German university will naturally have a higher share of slackers. But the US has thousands of institutions of higher education! What would the picture be in a representative comparison?

    The global dominance of US higher ed is uncontestable, but its not due to high tuition (which, as many critics have pointed out, are essentially a very costly and unproductive scam). It’s due to selectivity, the global dominance of English, and history (i.e., path dependency – education, like tech, is a winner-takes-all field).

    • David of Kirkland says

      If 30% don’t finish, you have a bad program. That means 1/3 of the learning space is wasted on those who will not learn, spending money that could be used elsewhere, blocking access to another would would learn.

      • Weasels Ripped My Flesh says

        D of K – is it possible that at least some of those 30% did “learn” something, even if they did not eventually graduate? Conversely, how many of the graduates failed to learn anything useful when considering the time and money investment? Could they have learned said learning just reading books in a library or watching this history channel, or enlisting in military, etc., during that same 4-7 years, without spending all the $$$?

        As if learning is the point of college, anyway, as opposed to indoctrination, but I digress.

        I think the Wizard was right on when he awarded the Tin Man his honorary degree.

      • quillette@timus.org says

        Why the worry about the 30% of dropouts? That’s not a huge problem. A lot of young people just try if the university is a good place for them, or if the field they chose really meets their expectations—and move on if that’s not the case.

    • Mark says

      I have studied and worked at Swedish universities and US universities, both elite ones as well as non-elites ones. I find your arguments very weak. If a third of students don’t finish, it’s not because of the quality of instruction, as your glib comment suggests.

      What would a “representative comparison” look like? You are making the case for the author by noting that due to their lower selectivity, which is intrinsically tied to their being tuition free, German universities have a higher share of unmotivated students than top 100 US universities. The conclusions is inescapable, tuition-free universities attract unmotivated and unprepared students, as evidence by the very high drop out rate in German universities.

      Your straw man at the end is embarrassing. The author does not claim that the global dominance of US universities is due to high tuition. Also, education is very different from technology, for example, the quality of an education is very hard to objectively measure, whereas the quality of a technology compared to another technology is relatively easy to measure. so education is nothing like a winner-takes-all field.

  6. CHinese in Montreal says

    I propose a human capital investment model for school funding. Instead of tuition fees that is fixed regardless of the outcome of education, University should be entitled to a fixed sum of their graduate’s future income, say 1 percent per year for the next 25 years after 5 years of graduation, or something similar. Of course, I see nothing wrong with schools having other form of income including donation, foreign students as complemental income scheme, but their main funding should comes from the return on human capital investment. University should be forced to teach students what will help them succeed, and share in their success (Or failure), rather than the current model where they get paid regardless of the outcome of students, even when students fail to graduate. It would incentive university to teach “real” subject instead of useless mumble jumble, and it would not cause the inequality problem where poor students can’t afford to receive an education because of prohibitive tuition fees.

    Seriously, I have this idea for quite some time and I don’t understand why it is not implemented anywhere( as far as I know). It seems to solve the current mess we are in quite neatly and surely this is something that someone has already come up with?

    • Charlie says

      Chinese in Montreal – excellent comments.
      Force students to borrow money from faculty to pay for fees. That way if the Faculty accepts people who cannot pay back their loans they suffer. Force faculties to become financially responsible or what they teach.

    • Cami Fish says

      This is an amazing idea. It’s effectively putting universities on a commission payment model. Brilliant!

      Another idea is to offer free tuition for only the educational programs that will be needed in the next decade or two. We need nurses and computer programmers? Free tuition. We have no need for people with gender studies degrees? You have the freedom to go, but you need to pay out of pocket.

      PS also hailing from Montreal 🙂

  7. Morgan Foster says

    Having been an avid consumer of histories and biographies about World War II, I continue to be struck by the number of references to young officers in the mid 1940s who attended various state universities in the 1930s, in the midst of the Depression.

    Many of them had no family support at all. They were working class or came from farming communities. They worked part-time. They paid full tuition. They received no student loans. In the Depression, when part-time jobs were hard to find.

    How could happen? How could they manage? Well, the stories are only conveyed in passing. The subject is World War II, after all, and the officers are not otherwise famous. However they managed it – without helicopter parents, without massive loans – they did manage.

    And of course, being the Depression, universities did not have to fund multi-million dollar racial preference departments and other jobs programs for their former graduates, and with general operating expenses kept to a minimum, tuition costs could be kept fairly low in real terms.

    There is a field of social study here that is ripe for exploring.

    • E. Olson says

      Morgan – I noted in another recent post that my parents attended a high quality private college in 1957 and the all inclusive fee (tuition and room and board) was $1,000 per year, or about 40% of the price of an average new 1957 car. Today that same school charges $55,000 per year, or about 160% of the average price of a 2019 car.

      It was therefore possible in the old days for bright people without family money to attend college by working their way through school. Many schools even had their own farms to supply the campus with low cost basic food, and students could get work milking cows, feeding chickens, and driving tractors to pay their tuition. Today, it is nearly impossible to earn enough working part-time and summer jobs to pay for university, mostly because the federal government has gotten into the business of making it more affordable and inclusive for the less bright and less motivated.

    • Harland says

      When I went to the University of Texas in 1988, the outrage was that tuition had just been quadrupled – from $4 to $16 per semester hour. It cost about $1000 a semester for tuition, fees, and books.

      Today universities have to have nice things because administrators and professors won’t be caught dead in a second-rate facility. Add to this Obama’s endless parade of new regulations – all requiring more enforcers – and the idea that a university should be a cash-generating business, and you get the current screwed-up situation.

      • Nakatomi Plaza says

        What on earth are you talking about, Harland? You seem to have everything exactly backwards. Students demand fancy facilities, certainly not the faculty. Where did you get that bizarre idea? Most professors are thrilled just to have healthcare. Obama’s regulations were generally about for-profit education, which is a total abomination and deserves to be regulated out of existence. You’d prefer a corporate stooge like Betsy Devos?

        And UT is one of those institutions that has been aggressively attacked by the right for fostering progressive ideas like cheap tuition and education as more than just job training.

      • Harland: I attended the University of Texas at San Antonio in the mid-1980s and remember all-too-well when my tuition skyrocketed from $4 a semester hour to $12!

        The University of Texas system used to have something called the Permanent University Fund where oil revenue was set aside for the University of Texas schools (and I think Texas A&M).

        Even though more oil in Texas is flowing the cost of attending the University of Texas schools keeps increasing.

    • ga gamba says

      You may enjoy this lecture by Thomas E. Ricks, author of The Generals (reviewed here), about America’s officer corps in WW2.

      What’s fascinating is how the US quickly built its officer corps. In June 1939 the active duty army had fewer than 190,000 personnel, which made it the world’s 19th largest army, comparable in size to Portugal’s and Bulgaria’s. Until 1936 regular army strength had been stabilised to 125,000 enlisted and 7,000 officers. If we keep the then ratio of one officer for every 18 enlisted, of the additional 58,000 in the army in June ’39 roughly 3200 were officers, giving it about 10,000 officers.

      So, hocus pocus tens of thousands of new officers created from ’39 onward? Not entirely. The US established Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in 1916, and large numbers of officers maintained their commissions in the Officers’ Reserve Corps (ORC) through five-year periods during which they received further training through school and extension courses and in brief tours of active duty. The composition of the ORC numbered about 100,000 between the wars. By 1928 ROTC was at 325 colleges and universities, and 6,000 new officers were being graduated annually – a number greatly in excess of regular army requirements, so they entered the ORC. There was also the Citizens’ Military Training Camp (1921 to 1940) for those not enrolled in tertiary institutions. For a month each summer these men would train, and upon completion of the 4-year cycle they were eligible for ORC commissions. Though it was only 5,000 who received their commissions, up to 400,000 men completed at least one summer of training.

      During the Great Depression Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) programme and directed the regular army to run it, which disrupted training of the regular army. The CCC was shifted to ORC officers. About 10,000 of them managed small and isolated camps in the rough for prolonged periods of performing physically demanding tasks, giving them experience from commanding men to organising logistics as well as providing disciplined training to many hundreds of thousands of young men who were to become war fighters later.

      • Ben Szemere says

        Another thing is technology. It has evened the playing field. In the past, you would have had to do the officer resident to have a better change of making general. With LMS, they get the courses online and have the same chances to get getting advanced. They can see lectors online or recorded.Its not just a “box of books”.

  8. CTE says

    In the us there is an aversion to this sort of thing and I think you can make a case for this. However, like healthcare, we seem to get stuck in the middle with the worst possible system that consists of the free market and government in ways that totally distort incentives.

    I was all for the gov taking over student loans but what a disaster that has been.

    Regarding the article it is important to know the shortcomings of other systems. I often hear we should be more like Germany. I do like how they handle the trades (or at least what I know of this).

    I do think it’s funny that all systems keep running into this “problem” of richer kids doing better. Well duh. While this doesn’t have to be the case, more liberal minded people can’t seem to appreciate why some people have more wealth (hint: might be reasons that also result in more stable households with two parents, the largest predictor of a child’s success). Most wealth is not inherited like some Lord.

    • E. Olson says

      CTE – “I do think it’s funny that all systems keep running into this “problem” of richer kids doing better.”

      IQ is highly positively correlated with income and wealth, educational attainment, ability to delay gratification, prevalence of more stable/two parent households, ability to learn new things, better health, and a host of other positive traits that benefit the individual in most endeavours and society in general. Thus the children of the wealthy are likely to benefit from both genetic and environmental factors that give them an edge in university and the labor market.

      Higher IQ students and/or wealthy background students are also offer other benefits to universities, because they are less like to need remedial coursework, extra tutoring, less likely to drop out early, and more likely to have high test scores and find good employment that allows them to give future gifts to the university, which all tend to lower costs or add income and reputational benefits to the university versus less bright/lower income students. In large part the “diversity is our strength” mantra is based on trying to come up with some positive reason to lower admission standards and admit students who are not really college material, because they almost always only add costs and lower income potential for the schools (but do create extra work for administration).

  9. E. Olson says

    Interesting article with an interesting perspective. The problem with “free university” is that it assumes that all or most people will attend and benefit from the education. But when 50% of the population are channeled into non-University tracks, and tax rates are relatively high and non-progressive (as they are in Germany), it means that the less wealthy and less elite half of the population are paying for a substantial portion of the education costs of the children of the wealthy and elite half of the population, which is inherently unfair.

    And as many Quillette articles have pointed out, relatively few university students actually benefit from their education, either because the course material/instruction is poor or irrelevant (e.g. Leftist victimology instruction no matter what the course title says), or because many of students are not really “college material” with the necessary intelligence and motivation to do true university level work. Making university “free” will only increase the number of unqualified students taking poor quality courses/majors, which will benefit no one except the faculty and administration of the universities. The major saving grace of the German system is that they do offer excellent options for apprentice/vocational type training for jobs needed by industry or the public, which benefit society much more widely than increased university attendance.

    • CompSci says

      Olsen, exactly. But my experience—and fear, is that “weak” students inevitably are lowering the standards of the institution. Lowering standards not just by majoring in newly created (fake) disciplines, but by lowering standards in traditional fields of study. Tuition milking is the current name of the game. We used to call that fraud.

      What we need to decide is, what percentage of the population can make good use of a rigorous college education. And that’s not nearly the percentage we currently have matriculating even within the USA’s expensive university system. The old saw that every student deserves a free college education is pernicious and downright dangerous.

  10. Emma says

    American higher education is simply not worth its exorbitant tuition rate. But I do agree that we should not ban tuition. As Hammel pointed out, tuition creates an incentive for students to attend classes and actually do well. When something is free, then there is less motivation to succeed.

    What many leftists don’t seem to understand is that they would be sacrificing quality for the sake of instituting tuition-free universities. Fortunately, the free market would take care of edging these universities out, to an extent. Let’s say the government bans tuition at public universities. Well, I doubt private universities, especially conservative ones such as Hillsdale College, would follow suit. Student who can afford tuition– or merely love learning — would naturally be drawn to the universities that delivers a better quality of education. Moreover, the idea that everybody should receive a free college education is preposterous and a disservice to those who are not meant for college. When you start admitting everyone, despite their academic abilities, it tends to lower standards (which I witnessed at my alma mater) since the bright and not-so-bright are lumped together in the same classroom.

    Regardless of the state of most of American universities, they still remain among the highest-ranked in the world. As I remarked to a friend, who decided to study abroad at a Croatian university, excepting Oxford and Cambridge, you do not see a large influx of American students, or even foreigners, flocking to the Middle East, Africa, or even some parts of Europe (seriously, I am thinking Croatia) to reap the benefits of their education system (of course, the selling point of affordable tuition is appealing to many, but they often disregard the drawbacks). In fact, it’s the other way around. People flock to the United States to share in the prestige of its universities. Hence why even some former influential members of the Muslim Brotherhood, despite their constant rejection of Western values, studied in America.

    I am not saying non-U.S. universities are sub-par, and, indeed, great scholars have come out of them, but, at the risk of sounding snobby, a degree from Stanford University weighs more than, say, a degree from Humboldt University of Berlin.

    • Emma says

      I forgot to mention that maybe, just maybe, one way to counter the hypothetical tuition ban at U.S. universities is to raise the admission criteria unless, of course, the government deems it discriminatory and unfair to “underprivileged students.”

      • CompSci says

        Of course, this won’t fly since we run our system without regard to common sense and scientific understanding, but rather ideology. Raise standards, admit upon academic merit, full scholarships to the best and brightest—limited as to need of such majors that the students indicate they plan to take. Everyone else can apply and pay their own way to whatever institution accepts them.

      • E. Olson says

        Emma – you are certainly correct that raising admission criteria would not be deemed racist, but perhaps more importantly it would also put a lot of college faculty and administration out of work. After all, who needs an office of “diversity and inclusion” when you simply accept students with 99th, 90th, or 75th percentile SAT scores or higher (depending on the selectivity of the school or program). Who needs departments of grievance studies and other “easy majors” if all the students admitted are capable of more challenging work in more rigorous and relevant fields? The huge infrastructure and existing legions of faculty and administration who would be adversely affected by rigorous admission criteria are important impediments to serious education reform.

        • Emma says

          E. Olson – I was an English major, as I’ve previously stated, but I chose English not because I expected it to be easy, but because I was hoping to be exposed to the western canon. I wanted to grapple with these ideas, be challenged by them, understand the way our predecessors thought, etc. I wanted to get at the truth. Alas, this was not the case. English has been dumbed way down. Students often impose their own subjective interpretation on a text, however hyperbolic and preposterous it may be. Sometimes we’d ignore historical context and focus, instead, on Russian formalism. I love reading, debate, intellectual curiosity, and, above all, truth, but I regret to inform that my education fell short of meeting my standards. The only class where I truly learned anything valuable was a philosophy class. It inspired a newfound respect for the great minds of western civilization.

        • Emma says

          The “easy” majors, such as English, could be made more challenging, as once they were (think the Oxford of Tolkien’s time), but they will not. Students learn to analyze texts through a limited range of lenses: feminism, post-modernism, and Marxism. English departments are in major need of a restructuring, and, hopefully, we will witness this in my unborn children’s lifetime.

          If it were up to me, I’d raise the admission standard for English majors to the following: before getting accepted in the major, students should be required to take introductory Latin, ancient Greek, and even some old English (think Beowulf). They’d take these classes in their first two years of college. They should be required, all of them, to prove that they have an intermediate understanding of grammar, spelling, and writing, and they should submit a writing sample as evidence. In the summer of their freshman year, and before they immerse themselves in more serious literary scholarship, they should be required to read the Iliad, the Odyssey, and Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. Then we can move on to Plato, Greek playwrights, Roman philosophers, and selected passages from the Bible. What does this have to do with English? It’s relevant. If students don’t understand the main ideas that influenced the west, and that inspired the authors they study, then their education is severely lacking. Educators have failed them.

          My admission criteria is just provisional, and likely flawed, but it gives you an idea of the kind of education young people today, whether or not they’re English majors, should be receiving.

          • Niobe says

            I think you are setting the bar a bit high! (and I speak as someone who did manage to teach themselves Ancient Greek to ‘O’ level standard in the 1960”s). Anglo Saxon ( the language of Beowulf, Old English is generally regarded as a later language) used to be a mandatory subject in the first year of undergraduate studies in English at Oxford, and was examined in two papers in the first year examinations. If you didn’t pass, you were out. I may say it was very difficult even for the super selected and motivated undergraduates.

            However, the final examination in English at the end of high school ( GB A level) included Chaucer in the original Middle English, two plays of Shakespeare, and some hefty nineteenth century novels as well as other major poets. The entrance requirements for Oxford specified Latin and a modern European language , as well as a scientific subject, and maths, all at what would now be sixth form level.

            I believe it is now possible to pass A level English without reading a complete play by Shakespeare . Extracts rule. A friend’s daughter who was accepted to read Spainish was sent a reading list and a preliminary course in Spainish grammar, which she had to pass in her first year. It was a standard which would have been O level ( ie fifteen year olds) when her mother read Modern Languages.

            I didn’t pay tuition fees. No one did who was selected as result of those admission procedures. As far as I was aware, there was no one in my college who had not satisfied those entry requirements, though obviously some girls had received more privileged tuition at paying schools, compared to state schools. If you failed your first year exams, or you didn’t turn up or do your work for essay based tutorials, you were expelled.

            It wasn’t hard to get a job once you had graduated, because it was assumed that you were both clever and hardworking. Sic transit……

          • E. Olson says

            Emma – your standards would have English majors switching to Engineering because it was easier!!! One problem with your very ambitious admission standards is the very poor state of English education in K-12, which would mean virtually no one would have sufficient background to gain entry. Another problem with your requirements is that most current English faculty couldn’t pass them, much less teach them effectively.

            Several things you mention are interesting from a pedagogical point of view. For example, does it make sense to apply 19th to 21st century frameworks such as Marxism or Feminism or post-modernism to the writings of 200 or 2,000 years ago when such concepts were not known to the authors? Similarly, does it make sense to do intricate textual analysis of works that have been translated from their original language to English – i.e. how do you know the exact meaning of the original texts is successfully translated into the English text you are analyzing for meaning?

            On the other hand, how much of your education was focused on understanding the literary sources of Western thought in terms of individualism, personal rights and freedoms, relationships with and between religion and politics, democracy and capitalism, equality and personal responsibility, etc.? How much focused on how literature has influenced how history is written, political thought and revolution, the spread of religion, etc.? How much focused on understanding concepts such as “what elements of writing and plot make a good or timeless story entertaining or meaningful”? or “what elements of writing style and content make for successful communication of meaning, and how does this vary by communication goal”? or “what elements or methods are most effective in translating literature in one form to another, such as an original novel into a movie script/newspaper story/book review”? or “why has English changed from Old English to Middle English to Modern English to American English to social media English and what are the implications for current understanding and future language development”? How much focused on techniques for improving creativity in story telling, and actually writing creative works?

            I will be very interested in knowing whether the important stuff that would actually make an English major a good consumer and contributor to the language, and useful to any job requiring writing ability and creativity is covered in any amount or detail versus social justice crap that lead to no useful skills besides protesting “unfairness”.

          • Charlie says

            Emma, before WW 1 English was not taught at university and before 1920 one had to pass a Greek Paper to enter Oxford. Tolkien went up to Oxford on a Classics Scholarships which were given on academic merit. The top 10 people in the entrance exams were given scholarships to colleges. Very few academics of today have achieved the level of scholarship achieved by Tolkien at King Edward’s B Ham. By the time Tolkien entered Oxford, he would have studies 9- 10 years of French and 8-10 years of Latin and Greek. By the time he was 12-13 years of age Tolkien would have been reading Caesar in Latin and Xenophon in Greek. The standard of the classics entrance exams to Oxford would be probably equal to most degrees in the subject today. That is why after completing a Greats degree one could be appointed a Fellow of a college.

            A mid 19th century don would have a degree in Classics, probably Maths as well, perhaps Hebrew and speak 3-4 languages. Statesmen such as Gladstone and Peel had degrees in Classics and Maths and would speak French, German and perhaps Italian. Gladstone wrote to a German theologian in German to discuss Divinity.

            By the time Tolkien started writing his novels he had a deep knowledge of Roman, Greek, Anglo Saxon, Norse and Celtic and even pre Celtic mythology; this high level of scholarship is largely extinct.

            What is noticeable about those involved in forming public opinion today is their low standards of scholarship prior to WW2. If one says modern Western Civilisation is showing the symptoms of the end of the Roman or Arab Empires , one is invariably met with blank looks. Any historical or Biblical references are often pointless.

  11. The Hang Nail says

    If we have free tuition combined with open access then yes, we will have plenty of stories about miserable universities. They will become extensions of high school and credential inflation will wipe out social mobility benefits. In a system like this the good students will go private and the public universities will be left with the middling masses.

    One version of free tuition would involve making a tiered system of selectability. This would make social mobility enthusiasts unhappy though because we know that people with economic advantages would be more likely to get selected. We also know that the less selective schools would be full of slackers.

    We need more articles like this to point out the many many variables that go into education. Turn up the knob on one variable and it affects all the others in various ways. In our current University system we are cranking up the administrative knob. We are providing more and more counseling, advising, and other non-teaching services in the name of retention and completion. But this costs a lot of money and it puts a bigger non-teaching burden on the faculty. We are so focused on retention that we give students 2nd, third and fourth chances. We put the blame for failure on the institutions and not on the students. Good students who do not need all these hand-holding amenities are paying this price.

  12. Caligula says

    Criticising a school because its buildings are ugly and its chairs old is just beyond silly. Perhaps a grand old campus (or a new pop-up one veneered to look like one) is somehow inspiring, but, no one ever learned anything from bricks and chairs.

    Free tuition might be sustainable if high standards could be maintained in admissions and in grading and retention, for the degrees granted by such institutions would be valuable and thus students who qualified would value what was offered and apply themselves accordingly. And presumably would have the talent to handle academically challenging work. Where it fails is at the intersection of “college must be free” and “practically everyone should go to college.

    The intersection of “free for all” and “open to all” regardless of talent will produce schools run for the benefit of their unionized employees at great public cost even while delivering worthless Dodo degrees. A place where all must win graduation (for all deserve prizes). And above all, a place where students must never be told that their “advanced studies” courses are actually taught at an 8th-grade level, so that faculty can master the material and students can handle it. For telling them this truth might make them feel bad.

    • Hombre says

      By and large, this is already happening with institutions giving 90% tuition discounts to employees and children of employees. It’s not making at any cheaper for students. Additionally the focus on new buildings and campus beautification is absurd. I hope these discounts are at least taxed as income because it is absolute theft from the rest of the student body. I never agreed to subsidize other’s education through my own tuition. While I was studying the school undertook a $750M project that ended up planting a bunch of trees and replacing sidewalk with brick pavers in some places. Massive waste of money that provided absolutely no value to anyone at the school.

      From what I saw, universities, even the top 50 have devolved into a collective of competing self interests all vying for a greater piece of the pie, faculty, employees, administrators, and students who are largely too shortsighted to fight for what really matters.

  13. I have taught in German, British, and American universities, and was educated in Germany and the UK, so I know the differences between the systems quite well. There is much to criticise and dislike in the German system, but this article does not make that point well at all.

    First, most of it is simply anecdote. I’ve seen ultra-modern glass-and-steel buildings on German campuses, and run-down 70s conrete hells at British and American universities. The author also thinks that German universities are more prone to ideological interference from politicians and overburdening bureaucracy, but in my experience, the German system is not better or worse in this respect. If anything, there are huge pressures in the American system to please donors, and to-reshape research agendas in their favour. Also, anyone who has ever listened to American and British academics knows that complaints about bureaucracy are commonplace. I won’t even comment on the highly subjective remarks that German students cheat more. We can trade anecdotes on this one (e.g., I’ve caught around the same percentages of German, British, and American students plagiarising), but what would be the point?

    Second, the author tends to measure German universities by American standards, and make other unfair comparisons. Why would it be a problem if German universities have no lecture halls named after donors, and if there is no, or only very weak, alumni giving? Of course, if you are already convinced that universities should be funded in such ways, there’s a problem. But if you’re not, the argument is simply question-begging. Another figure the author cites is that 29% of Germans had tertiary degrees, while 46% of Americans do. But this overlooks, as the author notes in parentheses, that Germany has a strong vocational system. E.g., nursing in the US would often be a university degree, but it would not generally be in Germany. The author also fails to provide comparative statistics as to how many students drop out of undergraduate programs in the US.

    Lastly, even if all the anecdotal evidence of the author suggested genuine flaws, it establishes nothing about the impact of university fees. The author does nothing to establish the causal relationship between the two. I actually do agree with the reader that educational outcomes in Germany are often inferior. But it’s totally unclear whether this has to do with a lack of university fees, or whether any other factor is to be blamed. Perhaps such a story could be told — e.g., if students bring money, universities have a higher incentive to attract students, and thus, to provide a good educational experience. But nothing is done to develop such a case. (Of course, this would require difficult empirical research, rather than ideological guesswork.) On the basis of this piece, we could pick any other explanation of why the German educational system does badly, and it would work just as well.

    (Note that there is also a comparative error here. Even if the German system suffers from various ailments, it is also in many ways intrinsically different from the American system, in the nature of their funding, structure, history, etc. So if American universities got rid of student fees, this does not establish that they would suffer from the same problems as German universities supposedly do. E.g., alumni donor networks would not suddenly disappear if American universities stopped charging fees.)

    Overall, this piece offers little insight as to why (or why not) German universites might be doing badly. There are some hints here to the real problems — chronic underfunding of universities by the German bundesländer and a correlating lack of political attention; inequality in outcomes and access between socio-economic groups; the dire situation for young researchers; and awful professor-to-student ratios. Note that, except perhaps the first one, it’s not immediately clear how any of these problems could be directly solved by introducing student fees. Indeed, in the short term, student fees might make inequality even worse. But these problems are all reasonably well-known, and the author does just nothing to advance our understanding of them.

    • Emma says

      Well, student fees could potentially introduce competition and better quality. When you offer a service for free, in some, if not most, cases you offer it at the expense of quality. As I pointed out in my comment, there is no incentive for students who aren’t paying to do as well as student who are taking on debts. Similarly, if professors aren’t receiving any incentives, usually in the form of higher salaries and tenure, then why should they bother to invest time and effort into teaching students who are likely to drop out? U.S. universities are by no means a model of low dropout rates, but when you have students saddling themselves with debt or paying out-of-pocket for an education, they’re likelier to work a bit harder. Students who cannot handle the academic rigor (unless the standard is so low that their grades will be inflated anyway) will drop out as opposed to students who, I assume, take a free education for granted.

      You yourself seem to be conceding the point that German universities are doing badly. Perhaps there’d be fewer instances of chronic underfunding if students were required to pay tuition. Further, student fees have no exactly made inequality worse in the U.S. Indeed, poor students enjoy the privileges of scholarships, generous financial aid packages (at Ivy Leagues and sometimes private universities), and sometimes full rides. Loans and government grants are also available. Do I think colleges are worth $60,000 a year? No. But you’re also forgetting the competition the market creates. In fact, to attract more students and maintain a high retention rate, this is precisely what universities do — they compete with one another and, to reiterate, hawk the best financial aid packages, scholarships, quality of education, extracurricular activities, state-of-the-art facilities, etc.

      I suppose tuition is one way, albeit defective, to separate the wheat from the chaff. I do think you raised some good points, and I am interested to read your reply. Of course, I’d like you to disagree (I learn much from those who disagree with me). I am a recent graduate, and, of course, I am speaking from both experience and observation.

  14. TheSnark says

    Good points Mr Brinkman. I did an exchange year at a Swiss-German business school, and worked in Germany at a company that hired many German graduates from the top universities.

    Attending the university was downright weird. There were few seminars, and most classes were large lectures. In the US that is typical for freshman classes, there is was the rule for all four years. To handle the boring lectures (and most were excruciatingly boring) the students got into groups of 4, and rotated weeks in which they went to the lectures. The other 3 in the group would go off and travel and ski or whatever, until their turn came. The one attending the lectures would take copious notes, which they photocopied and shared. Exams came at the beginning of the term, and covered 2-4 years of lectures. So all “vacation” period the study groups of 4 would get together, share notes, and cram for the exams.

    So when I worked over there, I found the quality of the German grads was much below their American equivalents. Their education seemed very theoretical, and not at all practical. It drove me crazy when trying to solve a business problem: the German kids acted like I was professor who had the answer out to 4 decimal places in my desk drawer. They were mostly smart and learned the ropes after a couple of years, but their university education was not very useful.

    Is that all due to low tuitions? It sure played a part. The universities tend to be under-funded, hence the large lecture halls and dis-interested professors. But underfunding is chronic when tuitions are low…the schools are competing with social security and universal medical care for funding, and schools mostly attended by well-off kids are going to lose out on that. You already see that in the US with the state colleges…funding for them goes nowhere while money for Medicare and prisons keeps rising.

    Yes, US colleges are too expensive, and student loans are big burden. Sorry, I don’t have a good solution, either.

  15. Jonathan D. says

    A few comments from a German who recently graduated from university:

    Attendance of lectures is usually compulsory today. Law is one of the few subjects where this is not the case. There has been, and is, a large debate about compulsory attendance because traditionally, the key concept of university was “academic freedom”. Students were free to decide how to acquire knowledge as long as they passed the exam. Keep in mind that German students enter university at age 18 or older, i.e. as adults. The assumption is that they should be able to make responsible decisions whether they actually profit from the lecture or would rather read a book at their own pace. Student representatives also like to point out that there may be good reasons to miss certain lectures (e.g. a part-time job or childcare).

    About dropout rates: Part of the reason for that is that most STEM subjects have challenging intermediate exams at the end of year 1 to make sure that those who aren’t up to the task are sorted out relatively quickly. It is quite common that more than 50 % fail. There is an option to try again, but those who fail two or three times have to leave their program for good.

    Of course, the absence of tuition fees does make it easier to switch degrees if you don’t like what you chose. However, this is still not an easy decision to make because there are drawbacks regardless of tuition fees. Parents will not be happy to fund you for one more year. Employers don’t like it too much if you spent too much time at university etc.

    Some comments above have argued that no tuition fees mean you can just stay at uni forever. However, in some programs, students are expelled if they do not graduate after a certain time (unless they have good reasons like health issues). Also, there are tuition fees for “long-time students”. They are still ridiculously low compared to the US (about 1000 € a year) but they are an incentive to finish your degree in time. The state grants for students that the author mentions are also cut if you don’t finish in time.

    One crucial thing about free tuition in Germany is that university is considered less of a “business” and more of an “administrative institution”. Students are not considered “customers” who must be catered for because they bring money, but citizens who want something from the state. So, universities work a lot like other state institutions. They are often bureaucratic. Staff can be rude and dismissive. Students are often not the main concern of professors who like to focus on research and do not gain any advantages by giving great lectures (there are few actual “lecturer” posts in Germany, professors do both research and teaching and usually they prefer the latter). The advantage may be that this way, there is far less pressure on universities to bow to unreasonable demands like easier exams, de-platforming unpopular speakers, etc.

    • That the US is not Finland. That Germany, is not Finland. That the systems of these tiny, sub 10 million people homogenous populations, can’t just be transplanted to ones with a hugely diverse populations of 330 million freaking people, spread across 50 states.

  16. It is always baffling to me, when comparing the US to Europe, that all of these mentioned countries: Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, and on and on and on, all of these countries have much higher tax bases to draw from. The majority of their citizens earn far more than the United States’. Half our population pays ZERO NET TAXES. Have Germany open up its borders the way the US has, with many first gen immigrants (this isn’t even to mention illegal immigrants) who can’t even speak english(or german) and see how far they get. See how easy it is for them to pay for free tuition. The US has 330 million people and again, half of them pay no net taxes. The US is not Europe. In addition, many of the problems the US has is students enrolling in colleges that they should have known they couldn’t afford, when they could have gone to a community college (for practically nothing) that would have served their needs just as well and then transferred.

  17. Weasels Ripped My Flesh says

    Ultimately, you get what you pay for.

    Team Blue 2020 US presidential candidates are trying hard to out-prog each other by upping the amount of free stuff everyone’s going to get. Free housing, college, medical care, child care, free basic income. Heck, it’s all free! And you deserve it, ’cause America is a wealthy country, etc. (due to its evil imperialistic plundering and enslaving, but again I digress)

    After all, the “law” of supply and demand is just an evil white patriarchy capitalistic misogynist homophobic transphobic racist ableist construct (I’m sure I left some stuff like those little hairy chested Lego figures – Legoist?).

    Venezuela handed out virtually free gasoline, water, health care, electricity, university, etc., until now they don’t have any of those things to hand out, including food. Nicely done! If a privately owned company could not stay in business producing stuff to be sold at a low fixed price, no problem, the government simply expropriates the company because the workers actually run the show and will now produce products at fair prices for all to enjoy. 2-3 months later, factory is closed, everything stolen, nothing produced.

    Free is Awesome.

  18. Nakatomi Plaza says

    Side-by-side articles on Quillette opposing affordable education and attacking a plan for dealing with climate change.

    I used to think of Quillette as libertarian, but this place is nothing but a far-right Republican site masquerading as a place for freedom of thought. Quillette is Fox News for people who think they’re too smart to watch Fox News.

    • Chris says

      Then feel free not to read articles here.

      • NickSJ says

        The left is always full of ideas about how to provide more “free” stuff, which really means buying votes with other people’s money. No one is required to borrow money to attend university. People who get marketable degrees will have the incomes to pay it back. If some people want to get unmarketable degrees which will leave them in low paying jobs, there is no reason why other people should have to pay for those decisions. The best way to lower the cost of degree programs is to cut university administrative bloat and shift to more efficient teaching methods, not to pass on out of control costs to others.

    • Andrew Scott says

      Some of the plans for addressing climate change seem pretty far out to me, and mixed up in ideology. The Chinese are choking on their smog, giving them ample motivation to develop technological solutions long before the US gets around to it.

      But that second paragraph nailed it. I started reading here because I feel sympathy for people torn to shreds by SJWs and it’s interesting to learn what’s going on. But beyond that it’s nothing but far-right politics. It’s intellectual to say that black people have low IQs if you make it sound like forbidden science.

      Each side loves pointing out how stupid the other is, and they’re usually right.

  19. Andrew Scott says

    We need higher tuitions in the United States to pay for sports – coaches, staff, equipment, and facilities. The argument is that sports attracts students. It’s difficult for me to imagine selecting a institution of higher learning based on its support for sports a small number of students play, and then paying extra to subsidize those activities.

    If anyone cares at all about reducing the cost of college, perhaps consider the expenses that have nothing to do with any sort of studies. If a university needs sports to attract students then they’re not drawing in the brightest ones.

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  22. Peter from Oz says

    I too went University in Australia when there were no tuition fees.
    The system then worked well, because the places were strictly limited and attendance was based purely on your mark in the higher school certificate.
    But in the 1990s the government took the view that the number of universities had to expand so that more people attend. This lowered standards, but also made the re-intorduction of fees inevitable.
    As the number of students rose, the standards fell and the spread of silly courses became endemic. So now we are awash with people who have degrees that really could have been 1 year diplomas at a technical college.
    The big lie is that more than 20% of the population are suited for university.
    This whole move to expanding tertiary education has led to rampant credentialism. In years gone by journalists just went to work for a paper as cadets. They may have earned a general BA first, but most went to the trade straight out of school. Now we have the preposterous idea that you can get a degree in journalism. Has this improved the quality of journalism? Of course not, because today’s journalists are too busy injecting opinion into the press releases they receive from ex-journalists hired by people who want their ideas spread as news.
    Nurses used to learn on the job to and get a diploma. But, no, we couldn’t have that. Nurses now have to have a degree in nursing. This means of course that a lot of the more ”demeaning” work that used to be done by nurses has to be done by unqualified assistants.

  23. Free college education for all is a method of subsidizing the privileged people who get college education, by the under-privileged who did not get it. This is a regressive form of taxation.

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  26. Peter says

    I agree with the author in some areas. During a conference in Germany we passed through Ruhr University in Bochum and a German professor complained about its Brutalist architecture, saying it had a bad effect on the students, with statistically significant higher suicide rates than on other campuses. But Brutalism is common around the world. In Europe it is often very difficult to get rid of these ugly modernist buildings, since they are fiercely defended by apologists of Modernism.
    Right now the renovation of Neue Nationalgallerie in Berlin – a really unattractive modernist building clad all in glass – will cost three times as much as a new gallery would.

    I have seen several very nice and friendly campuses in Germany e.g. in Tuebingen. The Germans were always very good at quality and maintenance. Now they are top of the world with extremely efficient new buildings that maximize the use of daylight and sun energy, while providing superior comfort (Passivhaus concept).

    I heard that tuition was withdrawn in Germany partly because of complaints by counsellors. For many weak students or persons with psychological problems, who were already struggling, tuition meant another serious obstacle. This made life for the overburdened counsellors pretty bad.

    Otherwise, this article just shows the big cultural divide between the US and Continental Europe. In many ways, these are two different worlds and American Exceptionalism is a fact.

    As far as STEM is concerned, most of us think that European bachelors and masters programs are just as good or better than the American ones. But Ph.D. programs at top US universities really stand out, because they attract the best professors and students from around the world and have the best labs. They are also much more flexible in hiring, salaries etc. And they push the students to the limits.

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  28. the gardner says

    Free college, so does that mean the professors work for free?

    Oh, wait—- it means taxpayers foot the bill as we will inevitably for unpaid student loans. And this is fair how?

  29. Andrew P says

    The US Government needs to severely limit the amounts that it will lend to students. A responsible lender does not let a student majoring in art, music, or woman’s studies borrow 50K/year for 4 years. If the amount of borrowing is limited, schools will not be able to charge the exorbitant tuition fees they charge today.

  30. Kessler says

    I see very little reason for attending University, except for value signalling to the employers. As such any system, where cost of education, whether to students or taxpayer is lowest is automatically the best system.

  31. Of the many interesting, and thoughtful and scholarly points in these replies, Emma betrays ignorance. She says: “at the risk of sounding snobby, a degree from Stanford University weighs more than, say, a degree from Humboldt University of Berlin.”

    Humboldt University of Berlin boasts 51 associated Nobel Prize winners in its history, including Einstein. Stanford boasts 31 Nobel Prize winners on its faculty. Perhaps the current crop of Humboldt faculty does not shine quite as brightly, but it is hardly the German university that illustrates inferiority. It is widely recognized as one of the best universities in Europe.

    • Emma says

      It is not betraying ignorance. Maybe I should’ve said Harvard instead of Stanford. I also never implied that Humboldt was an inferior university. You clearly misunderstood my point, which was that U.S.qualifications seem to be more easily accepted in other parts of the world than qualifications from other countries. For instance, my mother is an accountant who graduated from a foreign university. Well, she could not work in the U.S. precisely because of that. Also, you’re wrong about something: Stanford boasts of more Nobel Prize winners.

      https://www.bestmastersprograms.org/50-universities-with-the-most-nobel-prize-winners/

    • Emma says

      You’re conceding my point:

      “Perhaps the current crop of Humboldt faculty does not shine quite as brightly, but it is hardly the German university that illustrates inferiority.”

      You’re basically saying it used to be good, but it’s not at the level of universities like, say, MIT or Stanford or Cal Tech. If something used to be good, but it’s not anymore, then your point is moot.

  32. Kevin Herman says

    Free college tuition is a costly boondoogle. The goal should just be to make it a lot cheaper to attend college. There is no reason for example Penn State University a school in the state I live in has two administrative staff for every student enrolled. Also, a lot people that enroll in college never finish or even come close to finishing. Im not helping to pay for that in any way shape of form if I can stop it in any way shape or form. College is also complete uneccessary for many people.

  33. Nils says

    The author lays out his points as if they were self-evident, ignoring obvious fallacies in many of them. He’s like someone publishing an article saying, “Eating sugar is good for you because of it give you energy — therefore, we must all base our meals around eating lots and lots of sugar!” — while not mentioning the evidence that sugar causes numerous health problems.

    To take just one of his points, he’s offended that some of the schools in Germany have old furniture and outdated technology, and suggests that this is because they’re taxpayer-funded. “If they were only allowed to charge students astronomical tuition, think of how great the furniture could be!”

    The truth is that here in the U.S., middle schools and high schools, which are funded by taxpayers, have the latest in technology. I’ve met numerous students who had just graduated from high school, showed up on the University of Washington campus to take classes, and were shocked that the equipment in most of the classrooms was and is decades out of date. What, no place to plug in their laptops and tablets? What, windows that often look like they haven’t been washed in years? What, buildings that have not been updated since the 1970s? What, dusty, uncomfortable chairs in many of the classrooms? Yet the UW charges a fortune in tuition.

    And the notion that we should “motivate” students by putting them in a situation where their future depends on getting an advanced degree, but only at the cost of taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans that they may pay paying on for decades, with no guarantee that they’ll be able to get any kind of job after graduating, is the worst kind of intellectual puffery.

    Oh, and, cheating is endemic in U.S. universities also. Just sayin’.

  34. Robbi Gomes says

    The author of this article is very poorly informed. German universities are much more selective than U.S. universities. Not counting special schools for the disabled, Germany has a 3 tier school system. Upon completion of the 4th grade, children are divided and sent to one of 3 schools. Children can move up or down over the ensuing years from one school to another based strictly on merit. About 40% of all students go after 4th grade to a Gymnasium. Graduating from a Gymnasium (Abitur), the highest high school, is already an honor. Approximately 35% of these graduates will go to the university. They will generally apply for studying in a field or subject at several universities strictly by merit. No recommendations from influential people are required––just excellent grades. Medicine, law, psychology and the hard sciences require almost perfect grades, not to mention proficiency in at least English and an additional foreign language like Latin or French.
    I’m an American living in Germany where my son graduated with a doctor of medicine degree 4 years ago and my daughter is now getting her Masters in Molecular Biotechnology. In her case, she graduated at the University of Heidelberg––which is more prestigious that where the author taught––and after a 3 months internship at a well know U.S. laboratory, she was offered to get her Ph.D. at Harvard with a stipend of $3000.00 a month. She refused and is now working on her Ph.D. with pay at a prestigious Institute in Berlin. German university graduates are easily as valued ––or actually more valued than graduates from most U.S. universities with the exception of the elite Ivy league schools which are mostly reserved for geniuses or the super-rich. Tuition-free universities do work, but, in my opinion, they have to be reserved for excellent students who through hard work and excellent grades have proven that they are deserving of such an education.

  35. Orion Buttigieg says

    First, here’s no such thing as “free” in organized society – there’s a tax payer on the hook and why is that person paying for anything for someone else’s anything is always a question. Second, Incentive – remove it and you’ll have problems because accountability is usually linked to incentive. You’ll generally make better decisions when you know it’s going to cost you something.

    Now, that’s not to say higher education being it for trades, tech college diploma’s, or universities degrees shouldn’t be made affordable / available but handing it out needs to be attached to something – Performance springs to mind.
    All that said the current costs of education has been going up a direct result of gov funding – ironic. The other is lack of incentive to operate better and there’s no lack of ink on the skyrocketing bureaucratic costs with the “free gov” money getting tossed at them.

    K-12 needs a massive overhaul to include philosophy along with various other humanities vs the propaganda gender bla bla bla and ain’t communism grand nonsense. Most university degrees could be sorted in 2 years if they removed half the nonsense.
    Case: Did my Software dev/analysis at a private college in one full year. There I ACTUALLY learned how to “develop” for business unlike some of my university counterparts who had to go back to university for a crash course in development. Somehow in 4 years they weren’t shown how to apply technology which is crazy.

  36. Rev. Wazoo! says

    That a significantly large percentage of those accepted to university don’t graduate is a feature, not a bug, of low tuition costs. In a French medical school near me, more than a third of first-year students fail. Why?

    Because the uni knows it’s impossible to pick future doctors among 18-year olds regardless of fantastic or lacklustre school performance thus far. So they give a lot of unlikelies a chance to prove themselves and some indeed do, just as some who aced high school turn out to be slackers at uni and don’t make the grade.

    What’s wrong with that?

    Why should a poor kid have to gamble many year’s future wages on the first year of medical school? How bout giving him a chance and if he flubs it well, back to Starbuck’s but without a 30,000 debt but if he makes it we turned a diamond-in-the-rough into a much greatly contributing member of society. And why should someone who jumped some hurdles at 18 be guaranteed a degree even if it takes bending waaaay over backwards by the uni and everyone else to do that. (Elite schools graduate about 93% of those they admit; they won the lottery at 18 and are set for life.)

    If no/low tuition (5oo/semester where I live) means no money for a plethora of counselors, gyms, and useles-to-counterproductive administrators then that sounds again like a feature not a bug. The explosion of counselors seems only to producing droves of so-called students unfit to navigate student life let alone adult life. Unis in Continental Europe aren’t glorified high school/daycare centers.

    We’ve no sports teams, few dorms as such or Resident Assistants or vast bureaucracies dependent on students being themselves dependent rather than adult. It’s adult education: so find a place to live, attend classes, learn your material, pass your exams and get on with your life. Bye.

    Should a 20-year-old who works in a steel mill or a supermarket be given – at their co-workers expense – counselling because they have a hard time waking up for work or because they an off-hand comment from a co-worker or customer deeply upset them?

    No. Grow up and do your job or get out of the way and let someone else do it who’s able to. And knowing that’s the choice is one of the main ways people choose to grow up instead of choosing to remain sub-adults.

  37. RZ says

    Most of the claims in this article are not backed up with any evidence. I did my undergrad in Germany, and I am now at an elite US university. No one goes to a university for nice buildings – the goal is to study or to do research. The level of instruction in Germany is, on average, higher than in the US, where many Freshmen have never taken a calculus class. At the same time, US undergrads are increasingly coddled, and grades are heavily inflated. The German model is not perfect, and I agree that progressive tuition for lucrative degrees (it already exists for MBAs) makes sense when students are able and willing to pay. However, the debate about tuition warrants a significantly more rigorous analysis than what the author has presented.

  38. Fred Everett says

    I genuinely appreciate your interest in addressing the skyrocketing cost of attending our bloated Colleges and Universities.

    Let us put serious competitive pressure on our Colleges and Universities whose tuition increases have far outpaced inflation for far too long. Let us transform higher education from a debt crushing student burden to one of “universal access” for “all” potential students…whatever their background…whatever their income.

    Why not unite our 50 Governors and create a “National Public College On-Line Degree Program” that will allow off campus students to take courses from a 50 state menu of choices and earn a “National College” degree for a small fraction of the on campus cost? Each state would provide courses that are “selected” from their network of public colleges and universities, thereby creating “one” comprehensive national menu across all fields of study. Specialization, economies of scale and adoption of best practices would leverage our public advanced educational system and make on-line access available to students who do not want…cannot afford…to burden themselves with debt.

    If supported with a “National Education Lottery” (see Georgia’s “Hope Scholarship”), the cost of an on-line college degree or a vocational degree could be heavily discounted without using taxpayer money…perhaps even “free” if the student maintains a B average.

    And, yes, we could use this incredibly valuable asset to introduce global students…wherever they may be located…to an American educational experience…American ideals.

    Fred W. Everett
    4220 Fairgreen Terrace N.E
    Marietta, GA 30068
    678.984.3634 (c)

  39. A.N.B. says

    I taught at a German university during the 1995-96 academic year. Yes, I know, a long time ago. I found the students to lack motivation, and to be generally cynical and unwilling to think critically about issues. Classroom engagement is far better in the U.S.

  40. tommy mc donnell says

    everyone of these college students that think someone else should have to work to pay for their college tuition are anti-slavery advocates.

  41. Kevin Blankinship says

    This sounds almost exactly like the University of Michigan during the 1970s when I studied there. Nowadays, the campus has been turned into a place of beauty, the faculty are very well-paid, and it has now become unaffordable for most in the state. In-state tuition increased 4x the inflation rate from when I began there in 1974 to today. The university enrolled foreign students to take up the slack.

    I’ll take the 1970s version any day. It was also ranked better back then.

  42. Skept-O-Punk says

    Having lived in Japan for the past 10 years I frequently encounter foreigners that are here to teach for a couple of years but plan to go home. They inevitably encounter some great things in Japan (programs, etc.) and immediate think, “We need this in America!” (Of course the national healthcare program is a biggy for this comment.) What they fail to recognize is that American culture is NOT Japanese culture. Things that may work wonderfully here in Japan would fail miserably in America. The Japanese are very conscientious in their work and will often work very long hours for relatively modest pay. They are typically very honest as well. (Mostly due to the extreme social consequences of being discovered to be a crook, etc.)

    It is nearly always a mistake to automatically think something that works well in one country/culture would work in another — especially America.

    BTW, regarding the national health care system. What you pay is based on your income. So every English teacher (that is actually forced to sign up for the NHC when they arrive in Japan) that raves about how wonderful it is, is actually not making very much income so they pay very little into the system, while getting very decent basic healthcare in return. What they fail to recognize is some hard-working Japanese salaryman/woman is working their asses off to pay for their very expensive healthcare (because their wages are much higher) and also to subsidize these American’s healthcare.

    In addition, in America, every year or so you read about some physicians group, doctor or clinic that gets busted for illegally billing the national health care systems we do have (medicare, Social Security benefits, military/vet etc.) for millions of dollars. This always begs the question of how much graft is not getting caught. In 10 years of living in Japan, I have never seen this happening on the news. I also know and associate with a fair few doctors here and I can’t imagine any one of then coming even close to that kind of illicit activity. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but I think it would be truly rare.

    Does anyone think that in America, if we had a national healthcare system that mirrored something like Japan’s, that there wouldn’t be a horrendous amount of corruption and graft involved? Does anyone think that US politicians wouldn’t use this system as a never-ending carrot to garner more votes/power in one way or other? (Like they do every other “entitlement” program in the USA.) No matter what may look good “on paper” in reality, it is likely to be much much worse (or disastrous) — especially if government is involved. They only way to prevent the fulfillment of this truism is to make sure you never involve government in something.

    Literally every problem we have with education in the USA is the result of government overreach and interference in some way. Why would we want to give the government more power in this arena?

  43. Tom says

    “proportion of German university students whose parents were “well” or “very well” educated rose” – it is probabely like that everywhere: it’s the proportion of German parents who are “well” or “very well” educated that rose.

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  45. Back in my days, when failure rates were 60-80%, no complete idiot was able to graduate at any of the established highly reputable universities.
    With the change to the bachelor/master system and many small universities competing for students, I feel ‘throughput’ has steadily increased over the last decade or two

  46. Michael Storch says

    Is it possible that the reason more students come from well-educated families today is that, decade after decade, Germany’s system has allowed more Germans to be come well-educated?

    • Perhaps in parts, but for the last 20 years there was something else happening, which I think is a stronger contributor:
      Schools have changed; students are as dumb as they ever been! There is a study that 50% of those who get admitted to universities are not capable (by previous standards education standards despite current formal qualification). And that number is backed by the fact that even after university 38% of those who get their first proper job won’t make it past their probation time. And than you can add the number of those who will only, because any warm body on the job is better than an empty chair. This also lines up with IHK data on the Germans trade system somewhere in the ball park of 1 in 3 apprenticeship position are vacant, and countless dropouts or other low performers in those that get filled.
      So, when it is evident that recent generations overall are less competent (be it intellectually or socially), we should ask how this is distributed. I think this is really the interesting part. High and low performers are off the charts. Properly the outcome of changes to the German school system. Decades ago focus was on mandatory minimum standards for all, now it is all up to individual child (not adult!) to pick and choose what is relevant in their development. Add to that the current degree of digitization and the average teenager cannot even make a phone call or ask to a stranger for directions.
      Well educated people emphasize the education of their children (either personally, or they pay a tutor), indirectly bypassing a poor school system and setting their children up for success (compared to those who rely on the good old days of where teachers had still a say).

      Here you go: the far left wing crowd who caused the problem in the school system can now blame the ‘educated’ for extending ‘privilege’ to their children…

      On that topic, it is not white privilege. For example, Canada has a different problem (for the same reason): Half the immigrants are highly educated (the other half are rather the extreme opposite). Educated parents emphasize the importance of education and ensure their children (which obviously come in all shapes and colours) receive such (from pre-school to university) resulting in too many over-performers compared to jobs available. The issue with the dumb kids is however at least as bad…

  47. ALAN WHITE says

    Does the concept of ”academic freedom” include the right to advocate for those political systems which stifle such freedom upon achieving power?

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  49. B.L. says

    “Is it possible that the reason more students come from well-educated families today is that”

    …their parents are married and devote extensive amounts of time and money to their childrens’ education.

    I live in Bavaria, where my children both attend a gymnasium (academic-track), but the dynamic holds true for all three school-tracks. This is hidden by the statistics a bit because the tracks are so porous, so many college students never went to gymnasium. Once they’ve gone to college, their children are more likely to go to gymnasium.

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