Earlier this month, Lower Saxony became the last German state to abolish tuition fees for its universities. Not only will German students be able to attend college for free, but so will international students.
For American students who may pay tens of thousands of dollars for tuition, the decision likely sounds like an incredible one.
Incredible? Yes. Feasible? Probably not.
While the abolishment of tuition fees sounds great in theory, the resulting system will be riddled with problems.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a free ride. Every program requires a source of funding, and free education is no different. The German state will have to come to a determination on how they might fund the education of their students.
Raising taxes may seem like the best scenario in this case, but a raise in taxes would be a hard blow to a population which already finds itself saturated with fees.
Germany had the second highest income tax of 34 different countries, according to a study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In 2012 alone, Germans found themselves paying 49.8 percent of their incomes to their government.
Another issue is that a completely free system provides no incentive for students to graduate within a reasonable time frame. If it’s still free to graduate in five compared to the normal four years, it’s reasonable to expect that some students will take longer.
In Germany, this is already a problem. The country’s universities have long been known for their eternal students, or “Dauerstudenten.”
Making education totally free doesn’t address the problem of the Dauerstudenten, it just encourages them to continue to receive an education through a system funded through taxes.
The German populace could find themselves paying a sizeable portion of their income to support universities inundated with people in a near-constant pursuit of education. There has to be an end point some time.
The deal is bad for international students as well.
Americans who feel giddy with the notion of free college must also bear in mind that studying at a university in Germany is much different than studying at a university in the United States.
Perhaps it goes without saying that there are a myriad of cultural and structural differences between the two schooling systems, but those differences can impact the quality of a person’s education.
Not only would American students, or any other international student, have to be fully fluent in German in order to process the information given to them in their classes, they’d also have to be prepared for a serious change in their student lifestyle.
There are some major differences between U.S. and German university life, according to Slate.
German students are used to a structure where they can come and go from classes at their leisure. They can literally get up and leave anytime they want. Imagine the chaos that must ensue with classes of more than 200 people, which are not uncommon at German universities.
Universities in Germany also lack student life and academic advising, two things that multiple studies have suggested positively impact the educational experiences of students.
Students who have academic advising at their colleges are more likely to return to the college the next year, and ultimately graduate, according to a study from the National Association of Academic Advisors in Kansas.
Student social activities are also important, though they may not appear to be. Social relationships positively impact a person’s mental health and even their physical health, according to a report from the National Institutes of Health.
The German universities lacking these very important positive attributes won’t be helped at all in a system that is encouraging the arrival of more students.
College shouldn’t extort every penny from students through exorbitant tuition fees, but at the same time, free isn’t always the best answer.