Monday, September 20, 2010

College Tuition Costs: An International Comparison

Today was a mixed day for us.  The good news was that today was the first class of our Zoo Club, a program run for homeschooling groups by the NC Zoo where they come and give two classes in our community, then we go to the Zoo for two more classes.  They have a variety of topics, but this year we chose to do all four programs on the theme "Biodiversity" in honor of 2010 being pronounced the International Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations.  We have three different classes broken down by age (the students range from 5 years old to 17) with almost 50 students total.  The Zoo educators are great, and the classes are always fun and packed with good information.

The bad news was that this is the last class that will be taught by our treasured Miss Melinda, who has been teaching our children Zoo classes for five years now.  Miss Melinda is from Australia, and now that her son has graduated from high school, they felt they had to return to Australia in order for him to be able to afford to go to college.

One issue is that since he is not an American citizen, so he is not eligible for most scholarships and student loans--which I can understand.  What I can't understand is the differential in the costs of universities in Australia and here.  Melinda's son was accepted into a highly-competitive computer science program at a university outside of Sydney--the only CS program in Australia with a concentration in game development.  And Melinda was thrilled to find out (besides the fact that he was accepted into the major he wanted) that the tuition for his degree program would cost the equivalent of $7,000 US.  That's NOT per year--that's for ALL FOUR YEARS of the program.

In contrast, a year's undergraduate tuition for in-state students at nearby University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill costs nearly $7,000--$6,665 to be precise.  Of course, without the state subsidies, an out-of-state student pays $25,280 a year...just for tuition.  But, then, everything is relative; even that looks like a bargain compared to also-nearby Duke University, whose annual tuition is $39, 080 (what, they couldn't make it a nice round $39,000?).

There are definitely differences between American universities and those from other nations, but still... should it really cost four times as much to go to a competitive state school as a competitive Australian one?  Our family actually has personal experience with this.  Just last week, my brother flew over and installed my niece at St. Andrews University in Scotland, where the year's tuition, as an international student, will cost $19,584 (but UK students pay only $2,929 to attend one of Scotland's premier universities).  Compared to her other top college choice, the University of Chicago, whose annual tuition for undergraduates is $40,188, my brother thinks he's gotten a real bargain, even figuring in the costs of international travel and communications.

Oh well.  Maybe this will give our children more incentive to study foreign languages....

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