After years of discussion, universities became tuition free when the last German state agreed to fund the cost of higher education for both in-country and international students, said Barbara Kehm, a professor at the University of Glasgow, in an opinion piece on the topic published by New Statesman.
Jay Schalin, director of policy analysis at the right-leaning John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said American higher education is different because it focuses less on technical skills.
Ting Ting Eeo, a UNC junior who studied at the University of Freiburg in the spring, said the experience-based teaching in Germany was helpful.
"I would say the classes are definitely smaller and they focus a lot on experiential learning,” Eeo said.
The downfall of free tuition is that university funding depends on the individual states, Kehm said in her opinion piece.
Fabian Weicker, a law student at the University of Frankfurt, said in an email that from 2006 to 2010, tuition cost about 500 euros — the equivalent of about $638 in the United States today — a pricey fee for German students. But following the abolishment, he said his only university cost is transportation.
“Students have to pay a small contribution for the train ticket, which is around 100 euros a semester,” he said. “But with this ticket, we can ride all trains in Germany for free.”
Weicker also said free tuition gives him freedom that he might otherwise lack.
“I don’t have to rush through college,” he said. “It also lessens the burden in so far that even if I’m not sure (what) course of study I want to do, I can simply try it out for a semester.”
Kehm’s article said the previous need to rush through university was due to fees for long-term students, which Kehm defined as those who have completed several semesters over the expected time it takes to finish university.
Total public funding might mean universities begin to serve the state government more, Schalin said.
“ Whoever pays the paycheck has influence,” he said. “And now you’re shifting influence from students and most of the time, their parents, to the state government.”
Eeo said when she studied in Germany, the German students thought 500 euros per semester was too high, and the amount American students pay came as a shock.
“ It would cost 500 euros per semester at the University of Freiburg, and that was the norm,” she said. “We, as Americans, couldn’t believe tuition was so low.”
Schalin said costs at American universities need to be cut by first eliminating overstaffing and paying professors less for research and more for teaching.
“I’m not anti-public education, but I think that rather than raising tuition or looking for government to pick up the tab, I think we should look at these things first,” he said.
He said universities in North Carolina could potentially cut costs if universities become more efficient.
“They look for very easy political things like trying to get their energy costs cheaper,” he said. “Nobody’s against that. There are some very easy fixes that can be done and those are the only efficiency measures that they’ve even thought about.”