“Free” Higher Education in Wisconsin: Obstacles, and Possibilities pt 3 of 4


This post will be a little different and will be examining how Higher education is handled in various sectors of Europe backed up (when I cite statistics) with links to tables etc.  Please note that I am not

First off, let’s get some information straight.  Other than Canada, the United States has the highest percentage of population that has completed at least a higher education degree at around 40% (Canada has 49%).  Denmark, Sweden both hover around 8% lower  than the US and the US beats both nations in terms of population who has at least attained primary school education.  (Soure: http://www.eng.uvm.dk/~/media/Files/Stat/Tvaergaaende/PDF10/100629_Tal_der_taler_engelsk.ashx Page 34)

That being said, we can look at what we are all interested in, which is the economics of the situation.

So going back to that document (which has a lot of information I’ve discovered), we first look at Table 3.5 which is Public Expenditure on education as a percentage of total public expenditure.  Basically, what % of all money given out goes to Higher Ed.  Norway leads the pack with New Zealand, both spending over 5% of their public funds on education, with Slovakia, Denmark, Canada, and Finland all between 4.0-4.9%.  Then it gets pretty interesting.  The USA spends 3.9% of public funds on higher education, higher than all other nations except the 6 I just mentioned.  That means more money than France, Sweden, Germany, the UK, and the rest of the world.  Check page 40 of the document if you don’t believe me.

This, of course, is easily explained by the large increase in public universities in the USA compared to everywhere else.  We average over 100 schools per state and lead the world in total universities so we should naturally spend more money but we are richer too so I think it roughly evens out (I’m not doing the large amount of math required to prove this either…not nearly enough time)  And with more schools per capita than other nations as well, this seems to lead to a scenario where there is a large number of options for students wishing to continue their education.

But yes, in Denmark (and most parts of the EU) higher education is free (sometimes even for foreign students) if you qualify to attend.  And hereinlies the HUGE distinction why a European system cannot be applied to the US without MASSIVE change in every state.  In the US, our schools are very general, allowing students to come and try out a few majors before settling on something.  This is in great parallel to Euro systems where most schools (except the private  tuition charging ones) are specific in nature to career paths (Example: an engineering school,  or a politics and economics school, or business school)  The few public generals that exist offer nowhere NEAR the number of majors (Antwerp, Belgium’s biggest, offers 20 + a few professional programs and that includes 5 variations of a business degree).  So a shift to free tuition would likely mean the demise of general education universities and the rise of smaller specialty schools.  Schools like Madison (in their current form at least) would die.  Catch that?  Wither and die.  The largest University in Europe only has roughly 40-44k students so it is close but again, that’s the absolute biggest (U of Cologne if you’re wondering) whereas in the United States MOST major state flagships average that amount with some like Ohio State and Minnesota jumping to 50k or more.

Secondarily, we would have restrictions on who can go to what school.  Like the ACT, students in Europe must pass a rigorous exam (MUCH worse than the SAT or so I’m told from a few French students  I spoke to today about it –in French I might add, so yay UW language programs!), an exam that is directed at your future career interests and its pass/fail.  So if you pass you’re eligible and if you fail, you’re not getting into these universities and you will be forced into a vocational school if you still want to go on to more schooling.  The amount of studying required seems to be more then the ACT or SAT, if I’m understanding the other students accurately.

Without first K12 reforms, we would have no framework to apply such a test nationally that is accepted as the be all end all of admissions (there are other factors but this is a dealbreaker…)  So we would need more equality and parity in K12 first and this is something I’ll be looking at in the Solutions section next time.  And before it’s brought up, yes the ACT/SAT is a comparable exam but it is not MANDATORY for admittance to all schools (think tech schools, or even some community colleges) whereas these European exams are.

Finally, and with regard to UW-Madison in specific, public Universities in Europe, while free, are considerably less prestigious and not nearly as well regarded as their private counterparts.  Which schools can you name in Europe?  Oxford? Cambridge? London School of Economics?  They’re private tuition charging places folks.  These are where the best and brightest go to prosper, shine, and lead the world in a variety of fields.

So how do we keep our reputation (and the reason that students come here) and yet do something to make university education more attainable?  Next post J


2 Comments on ““Free” Higher Education in Wisconsin: Obstacles, and Possibilities pt 3 of 4”

  1. TJ Madsen says:

    I think your analysis is interesting, but I also think you’re limiting your thinking too much to the status quo.

    Haha, I will probably have to write a full post somewhere to respond to this (and part 2). Look for it to come when I have some more time. (Maybe a couple weeks from now)

  2. CampusCaucus says:

    Sure thing, I look forward to it. I did consider it carefully and my analysis does rest on what exists currently because that is the structure from within we are working. I say multiple times throughout the series something along the lines of “without major changes,” or “with the current structure”.

    I am writing based on the perspective of “should we do this in the next 25-30 years” and I feel that within the foreseeable future, my analysis (although perhaps slightly skewed) will remain valid and applicable but I look forward to responses!

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