The Arizona Desert Lamp

Come for the haggis, stay for the higher ed

Posted in Culture by Connor Mendenhall on 1 December 2008

Today’s New York Times reports on American students studying in Scotland, not just for a semester abroad, but for their full undergraduate education. It seems there’s something of a sick silver lining to American tuition inflation: the crazy cost of college at home makes international education look like a bargain. As the article puts it, “for American students, a university like St. Andrews offers international experience and prestige, at a cost well below the tuition at a top private university in the United States.”

As an American student studying for a year in Turkey, I’ve seen something similar to this principle firsthand. I’m in Ankara because I was lucky enough to win a Boren scholarship, which covers the costs of study abroad for American undergraduates interested in the world beyond Western Europe (by the way, if you’re a UA student interested in applying, you’ve still got a bit of time before this year’s Jan. 26 deadline—see this page for details). Without a scholarship, there’s no way I’d be able to afford the pricey program that I selected. Earlier in the semester, I mentioned to a friend that it would be nice to head back to Arizona and cut my tuition bill a bit. He was confused—as it turns out, his parents nearly bribed him to go abroad, since a year in Turkey costs far less than a year at the small liberal-arts school he attends. UA may not be “as nearly free as possible,” but for a native like me, it’s still a hell of a deal.

Overall, the globalization of higher education is a great development for students. It enables a sort of educational jurisdiction shopping, allowing those students with the means to do so to pick the university ruleset that they prefer. Hate gen-eds? Head to Edinburgh, where you can take courses from a single faculty for your full undergraduate career. Want to specialize and get out quick? Go to McGill, where you can complete a focused, three-year degree. Want to have class just once a week, scads of national holidays, and brutal exams that hit like dumptrucks full of bricks? Come to Turkey! The traditional overnight visit might be less than sufficient when it comes to judging an entirely different education system, but choices beyond “big cheap public” and “small pricey private” are a welcome development. Hopefully, a global market for college kids will do the same thing it’s done for T-shirts and bananas, putting education abroad (or anywhere, for that matter), within the reach of all students—not just those who would otherwise attend expensive schools at home.

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