Free higher education won’t actually be so free

Mikaela Reinard, Contributing Columnist

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illustration by Lisa Revette

With the presidential elections inching closer, our favorite presidential candidates have been discussing the possibility of making higher education free for Americans. What no one understands is that this promise isn’t going to come without expenses attached.

It has been mentioned that other countries, such as Germany and Turkey, offer free higher education for their citizens.  However, when one actually looks at how they are paid for it becomes clear that neither of these countries offers a free college education.

According to the Confederation Fiscale Europeenne (CFE), the taxes in Germany are significantly higher when compared to the U.S. tax rates. For a single person in Germany, if they make anywhere from 7,665-52,154 euros (8,580 to 58,383 U.S. dollars) a year, they pay 15 percent in income taxes. If that single person makes anywhere from 52,154-250,000 euros (58,383 to 279,862 U.S. dollars) a year, then their tax rate makes a steep increase: 42 percent in income taxes. Any salary above 250,000 euros a year in German is taxed at a rate of 45 percent. If a single filer makes $413,201 or more per year in the U.S., the highest tax rate is 39.6 percent.

Unlike in the U.S. where we acquire a tax refund if we pay more in taxes than what we owe, in Germany, the filer only qualifies for a tax refund if their income tax rate is below 25 percent.

Along with other countries that offer government-funded higher education, Germany and the U.S. differ in the process of getting students to physically go to college. In Germany, students take an exam when they’re 10 and they get placed into three schools for their secondary school career: the Hauptschule, Realschule and the Gymnasium.

The Hauptschule is for the lowest-achieving students on this exam. Here, students have vocational orientation in hopes that they’ll enter a trade. The Realschule provides both liberal and practical education and students go through until the 10th grade. Here, students focus in on various disciplines that don’t necessarily need a university education, but still need more formal education than the Hauptschule. Lastly, the Gymnasium provides students with a liberal education, lasts through the 12th grade and is intended for students who will continue to a university.

According to the McDaniel College, only about 30 percent of German students ever attend the Gymnasium. This is vastly different from the U.S. structure where all students go through a central high school system, take the SAT or ACT and then apply to various colleges, knowing that they have a fallback of being able to go to community college if they don’t get accepted at a four-year university on their first try. As of October 2013, 65.9 percent of recent high school graduates in the U.S. went on to college, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In other countries, such as Turkey, students still attend a central high school system, but can only advance by taking a standardized college entrance exam. The content in these exams is far more in-depth and difficult to comprehend than the SAT and the ACT, and the grading is extremely harsh, which drastically minimizes a student’s chance of attending a university. These obstacles to entry are in place because it’s simply not feasible to fund higher education for every citizen.

If the U.S. were to switch over to a government-funded higher education system, then there’d be more obstacles to actually enter a college, and fewer people would have the opportunity to earn a college education. The U.S. is simply too big, with over 300 million citizens; Germany and Turkey both have roughly 80 million citizens. Government-funded education is far more plausible if the population is smaller. It’s not necessarily impossible with 300 million citizens; however, it’ll take a lot of work to get everyone to pay the taxes necessary for almost 66 perccent of the population to attend college; Then prepare U.S. citizens for the possibility that the system of going to college could change drastically.

By no means am I opposed to the idea of the government taking over the monetary transactions with collegiate institutions, but the U.S. population has to know that this proposition for free higher education will come with a hefty price tag.

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