ARLINGTON -- During her sophomore year at Arlington High School, Lexi Vier was told she had to take a foreign language class to fulfill graduation requirements. She made a decision that now could have a significant impact on her higher education once she graduates.
“I took German and fell in love with it so much,” she said.
So much to the point she was elected president of the German Club. As graduation approaches, she is looking in a direction more and more Americans have considered in recent years.
College in Germany. And perhaps more intriguing -- college for free.
As of 2014, all German public universities offer free tuition. The higher education system in Germany is funded by taxpayers much like the K-12 system in the United States. For students like Lexi who do not mind the experience of education abroad, the free education is a major factor when making a decision.
“It is either between German universities or Air Force ROTC.”
Tuition in the United States has doubled at public universities since 2004, according to U.S. News and World Report. The increasing difficulties of higher learning in the U.S., highlighted by the recent closure of ITT Technical Institute, are why educational advisor Jay Malone believes Germany is becoming a serious option.
“The situation at ITT Tech is a perfect example,” said Malone. “A lot of opportunities students had in the last 10-15 years have proven to be costly and not have good outcomes.”
Malone founded the company Eight Hours and Change, a company providing information, visits, and advising for students interested in German universities. He says though international students may be drawn to the free tuition, Germany is a country with one of the lowest birthrates in the world and needs students from across the world if they want to sustain their higher education system.
“It is impossible for them to continue to support their way of life unless they bring in more people from abroad,” said Malone.
The German government has set a goal of 400,000 students from outside Europe studying in their universities by 2020. They hope some of those students will stay in the country for professional careers and become part of the tax base, which makes free college possible.
Right now, there are 330,000 students from outside Europe in German universities, and only 5,000 of them are American. But Malone says that number has risen in recent years and he expects it to keep rising.
Adding to the allure of German colleges, reforms in recent years have made bachelor’s and master’s degrees at their universities roughly equivalent to the same degrees in the United States.
That would make them easily transferable and understandable to American employers, should the student wish to return stateside after their studies.
Free tuition also gives students the opportunity and freedom to study subjects they are interested in rather than ones they feel would justify the investment for tuition.
There are some hurdles and costs American students have to clear before they can enroll at a German university. German law requires students to take out health insurance and they will have to apply for a visa should they be accepted. Applicants for bachelor’s degrees must have an SAT score of at least 1300 or an ACT score of 29.
A firm handle on the German language is also needed, although there are some programs taught in English.
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