Europe Has Free College. Here’s How It’s Working Out.

Free CollegeFree college sounds great! Who doesn’t like free stuff?

To make the idea sound even more appealing, advocates continuously cite Europe as an example of success. Many European countries offer their citizens tuition-free higher education, so why can’t America?

The truth is that free college in Europe is no success story. Rather, it should serve as a cautionary tale for the United States.

European-style tuition-free higher education has proved one thing beyond the shadow of a doubt: “Free” college is actually wildly expensive.

Americans already pay a steep price for our higher education system. Taxpayers—including those who never went to college and never intend to—spend more than $150 billion a year on federal student loans, grants, and other government programs.

The increasingly hefty price tag attached to college tuition reflects the fact that colleges have no incentive to keep their prices low because students can so easily take out massive loans from Washington.

One of the few factors putting any downward pressure on higher education costs is the growing criticism that universities receive for leaving so many students burdened with massive amounts of student loan debt.

Under a fully financed government system, however, universities would receive no such scrutiny. They’d simply pass the bill to Washington and let lawmakers take the heat from unhappy taxpayers.

That cumulative bill would quickly skyrocket. Many European countries that have experimented with “free college” are finding that approach to be simply unaffordable. Germany, for example, saw a 37% increase in the college subsidy cost to taxpayers once public universities removed tuition.

Similarly, England had a free-college policy between the 1960s and the 1990s. Enrollment soared, straining government revenues. Ultimately, England had to lower resources by 39% per student.

Ultimately, England’s free college policy wound up hurting low-income students the most, as schools were forced to cap the number of students admitted.

In fact, according to researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research, “the gap in degree attainment between high- and low-income families more than doubled.”

European countries that offer tuition-free higher education also struggle with the issue of completion. Finland, for example, ranks first among all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in terms of subsidies for higher education, with 96% of all higher education funding coming from public sources. However, Finland ranks 25th among OECD countries for degree attainment.

France famously touts its tuition-free university system. Seldom, however, do advocates boast that almost 50% of French students drop out or fail out after just their first year.

It is clear that transferring the entire cost of higher education from students to taxpayers is fraught with unintended consequences.

Countries such as England and Poland actually saw significant increases in higher education quality and access after reinstating private tuition payments in their countries. It appears that there is some value in requiring students to invest in their own education.

Given the increased tax burdens placed on taxpayers (including those who don’t hold degrees), the significant overcrowding, and high dropout rates, European-style free college should largely be considered a public policy failure.

The $1.5 trillion in outstanding student loan debt that Americans owe is certainly a crisis. However, the solution to this problem is not to encourage more students to attend who may later drop out and ask Americans who did not go to college to pay for those who do.

This would fuel inefficient higher education spending and weaken the integrity of our colleges and universities.

The solution, in America as in Europe, is to put individuals rather than governments in charge of higher education financing.

Reprinted with Permission from - The Daily Signal by - Mary Clare Anselem

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7 months ago

The thing to emphasize when talking to younger generations who have been very effectively indoctrinated by our public education system and our mainstream media to adore socialist countries is that “free” isn’t actually free. The baseline income tax system in most of these so-called socialist democracies is 50 to 60 percent. That is a flat tax levied from dollar one. No so-called loopholes or exemptions. Everyone pays this rate. On top of the income tax, most of these countries also levy various special annual taxes levied on things like cars, the TV you watch, the religious affiliation you belong (yes,… Read more »

Fred Grugel
7 months ago

Get a trade, you can use that all your life and make money equal to those with a degree if you factor in the money you save not going to college.

7 months ago

I love when young people say, but the government pays for it. I then usually ask where does the government get their money? They then have to put 2+2 together and realize that it’s from the taxpayers. And no, I don’t want to subsidize other people’s higher education. I paid for mine. If you choose to go, pay for it yourself.

7 months ago

Young people have really no idea on Socialism. You never get anything for free. In Socialism it’s all taken from you. It sounds good, for getting votes. They can say anything they want but, do totally different. Next step after Socialism is Communism.

Patricia Walker
7 months ago

What ever happened to working your way through college?

7 months ago

There are two retired Univ of CA professors who according to public records receive over $1 million per year in retirement from tax payer funded CalPERS. We need to stop this and bring down the cost of education ‼️

John Karkalis
7 months ago

Paul E. noted, as have many members of AMAC, the p-ss poor job our universities are doing “educating” our students, and the superlative job they doing indoctrinating them.
If you disagree with a prof’s pet Socialist theories, it’s more than likely you will flunk his course.
Mother famously said, “There is NO free lunch!” (Others said it too, but Mother got there first).
Good God! Why would we ever follow Europe’s in anything?

7 months ago


7 months ago

If the student has to work to pay their own tuition they will spend wisely and work harder to learn. No frivolous electives (or degrees) and they will work to absorb ALL the material and get much better grades.
Perhaps more work/study programs and internships, but when education is ffree to the student they do not place nearly as much value on it.

tony d willIiams
7 months ago

If the free colleges over the sea are so great then I wonder why we have so many foreign students in our expensive colleges.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Martin T.
7 months ago

In addition to the points you make, this would make it even less likely for people to enter vocational schools or apprenticeships and adversely affect the already serious shortage of (by the way, well paid) skilled craftsmen and women. Many of those folks continue their higher education while earning good wages AND paying their own way.

Brenda Blunt
7 months ago

I had to take out loans to go to college and I paid them all back. The next person can do the same. I did not receive any financial help from my parents.

Steve Harmon
7 months ago

Yup, easy to have “free” education when you pay little for defense. We will see how that “free” stuff lasts now that My President is getting those NATO deadbeats to pay up. #2TermTrump

7 months ago

My son lives in Europe. My grandson is in college in Austria. The income tax is 50%. The students pay their own board and room which can be expensive. Usually you can get a degree in 3 years. In Austria when our son went to apply for his next 3 year residency permit they informed him they wanted 25% of all their investments. Needless to say they moved to Slovakia where income tax is 27 1/2 % and they do not want your investments. It also cut 2 hours off his commute to work. Vienna has very good American Schools… Read more »

7 months ago

What these college students who want free tuition don’t realize is that THEY will be footing the tax bill for the next batch of freeloaders down the road…wonder how they will feel about that!!

Peggy Villemarette
7 months ago

College students and adults who support socialism need to be told that their taxes will increase to pay for the “free” items that they are going to receive. That is, of course, if they pay taxes, which most of them don’t!! Those who do will change their minds.

Mark F.
7 months ago

The ‘FAT’ in higher education costs are (and have been ), OUT OF CONTROL. No watchdog entity, at least with any authority, tracks higher education costs or value. And then follows up with recommendations to reduce the ‘fat’. This of course means nothing will ever be done to combat this major issue head-on. From over paid presidents and other staff and faculty salaries, to unnecessary buildings having ‘extravagant exteriors’ (when a more traditional exterior would suffice), with astronomical costs and overruns. All of this and more ‘fat’ continues to go unchecked. ALL of which simply and so conveniently gets passed… Read more »

Eric R Ritzheimer
7 months ago

I paid for my education….so should the others who want a degree. I say if they have student loans and can’t get a job like the college promised with a degree in Golf or Frisbee…then the college should be liable to pay the loan if the student can’t pay. OR is the student is still stupid after 4 years and gets his degree in liberal arts or whatever, and can’t get work because he can’t even print his name on an application…then the college should be liable for the loan.

Joe Brown
7 months ago

Not to mention the never ending building, and things that could certainly be done without. The University of Illinois and Illinois State University are in never ending building. And why should they while they rape the students and the state.

Stephen Russell
7 months ago

Maybe EU colleges should compete within to cut costs etc?? or US colleges?? As is NO changes

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