I thought that I should clear a few things up.
I think that the ability to critique our government is one of the best things about America. Citizens have the right to be heard, to demand change, to make our country the best that it can be. I encourage everyone in the US to do so - get involved, critique, make changes. That is the root of democracy and the founding fathers purposefully created a system where the people had a voice. And I believe that one of the most patriotic things a citizen can do is push the government to be better by pointing out its flaws.
As for the US higher education system, I do think it is flawed. It has become ridiculously difficult for kids to get into college. Kids are now required to achieve above a perfect grade point average in order to be competitive. How is it possible to achieve above perfect? Applicants must also excel at extra curricular activities and volunteer in the community.
So applicants must be better than perfect and must have developed one hell of a resume before even getting into college, but then there is the cost.
College tuition and fees in the USA have risen 1,120% since 1978, four times faster than the increase in the consumer price index. *1 The USA is systematically restricting access to education to a large portion of the population. And it is not just the poorer population that is being negatively effected. Most of my friends in the upper middle class world are worried about the cost of college. One friend told me that he has no idea how he will pay college tuition for three kids. He likened it to Sophie's Choice in determining which child would get the privilege of a higher education. And he is a successful, upper middle class college educated professional.
People will tell you that applicants can go to the less expensive state colleges and universities, but almost everyone I know ends up sending their kids to private universities because their kids do not get into the less expensive state schools. Their children are not being admitted, despite their above perfect grade point averages, extra curricular activities and pumped up resumes.
Many parents recount that the pressures of school, homework, tutoring and extracurricular activities are leaving their children physically sick. More and more teens in America are being diagnosed with stress-induced illnesses.*2 And keep in mind that the upper middle class kids who are being scheduled into breakdowns trying to get into college are the lucky ones. They have parents who have the means to pay for tutors, coaches, camps, college prep courses, application fees, etc. If the upper middle class kids are having a difficult time getting admitted, then how do the kids from less privileged backgrounds get in to college? How does a single parent who is working 2 jobs just to make ends meet pay for tutors, test prep, application fees, tuition? So, yeah. I think the system as it is is flawed.
But back to my friend. In addition to my critique of the higher education system, he told me that I am elitist because I am over in Europe having an experience that other Americans couldn't have.
This is just a factually incorrect statement. Americans can immigrate to Europe. Many do. That being said, immigrating anywhere is difficult. Life in another culture asks you to let go of your comfort zone. It requires you to listen to other cultures complaints about your country. It asks you to look at the world through a different cultural perspective. A move to Europe from the USA means you will give up convenience, space, privacy, a big car, and consumerism (as there is no where to put all your stuff when living in a smaller house). It also means you will be paying much higher taxes. Anyone can do it if they choose to.
Additionally, any American is free to apply to university in Europe. There are a number of countries offering coursework in English. *3 And, most of the programs are 3 years so you save a year of tuition and living expenses. And the best part - the fees are less, if not free.
Let me compare university costs between universities that are alike in terms of prestige. In the USA, Harvard University tuition is $62,250 a year if one studies from Autumn to Spring and does not opt to pay for health insurance. That is $249,900 for a completed degree in economics in 4 years. And that is if you can get all your classes and graduate in 4 years. Many students now take 5 years or summer school in order to graduate, so factor in additional costs as a cushion.
Now compare an education from Oxford in the UK. A degree from Oxford will cost an American who has not lived in Europe $22,580 a year or $67,740 for a complete degree in economics in 3 years. That is a savings of $182,160 dollars.
My son, however, has an additional benefit. Because he is both an American and an EU citizen and he has lived in Europe for the 3 years prior to university, his tuition would be $14,101 a year or $ 42,303 for a completed degree. A savings of $207,597. So for the same quality education he could pay for three years of university at Oxford for less than one year at Harvard. That is not elitism, that is pragmatism. And to think, my friend was an economics major.
My son qualifies for an even better deal if he attends university in Scotland where the annual tuition is $2,000 a year. He could attend St. Andrews University (the university where Prince William and Kate Middleton went) and receive a damn good, high quality, Harvard level education for $2,000 a year. If he went to university in Sweden or Italy, university is free. And get this, if he went in Denmark he would receive a monthly stipend. Yes, in Denmark, students get paid to attend university.
My son would prefer to attend college in the USA. We have told him that we will honor whatever choice he makes and support him to our best of our financial ability, but we we may not be able to pay for all of it. He is an incredibly intelligent kid, but he does not have above perfect grades because here they don't give above perfect grades. It is likely that attending college in the USA means he will need to apply for scholarships, take out loans and he will graduate with debt. I understand his desire to go to college in the USA. His dad and I both went to big colleges and had a great time - football games, basketball games, parties, etc. And Aleksander missed the American high school experience so I get it. I really do. I just don't think it worth taking on the debt.
As for us being elitist - that statement doesn't take into consideration the sacrifices that we have made to have this experience. We sold our home, our cars, we uprooted our children, we have not seen our families or friends as much as we'd like to, it was really, really difficult on all of us for a long time, and we pay exorbitant taxes. We have earned this benefit of having our kids attend university in Europe at a lower cost.
And honestly, when you get right down to it, what is more elitist? A system designed so that only the privileged can get in and afford a higher education? A system that saddles the less fortunate with debt that will hinder them for their adult lives if they can get in? Or a system that allows access to education for anyone who wants it?