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Money is a real issue for the mushy middle who doesn't get the full benefit of tuition and costs assistance.

For the top end (Ivies, Stanford, etc.)if by mushy middle you mean people towards the lower end of the top fifth you'd be right. For people who are from around the median tuition is covered by financial aid, and at least some of the room and board often will be as well.

Money is a real issue for the mushy middle who doesn't get the full benefit of tuition and costs assistance. The "solution" is debt as, more and more, assistance is drifting away from grants and towards loans.

Exactly the opposite for the elite universities with some   having completely eliminated loans in their financial aid packages.

If you're from a middle income family why would going to state U. be better than a Harvard or Princeton? In the former you'll get few if any grants, get loans for tuition, and have to pay for room and board. In the latter you'll get a free ride on tuition, all grants, no loans. Sure the sticker price is a hell of a lot higher at Harvard, but what matters is what you actually pay.

For grad school - you don't pay a cent at the elite private universities for tuition for Ph.D. programs, and you get a stipend added on. For law - different type of education - more theoretical, abstract, rather than practical at the elite schools whether public or private, and much better chances of landing that associate slot at a top firm with its solid six figure starting salary.  Unless your parents are loaded you're going to end up heavily in debt - not much financial aid available in law school - however, some of the elite private law schools will pay off some or all of your debt if you take a non-profit or public sector job (depends on your salary and how long you stay outside the private sector).

Not too familiar with the business and med school situation - my friends tended to either go for Ph.D's or to law school.  (For non Americans - law and medicine are graduate disciplines in the US, i.e. you must get a university degree before you can study them and it can be in pretty much anything you want)

by MarekNYC on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 05:27:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For grad school - you don't pay a cent at the elite private universities for tuition for Ph.D. programs, and you get a stipend added on.

Marek, we must be living in parallel universe :)

I've been poking around recently on behalf of a cousin and science grad school at Stanford or CalTech is not free by any means. Oh gosh no! Over $60,000 for a 2 years MS and the vaunted scholarships are very, very stingy (and close to non existent for foreign students).

Now, if you can tell what the $10 billion endowment Stanford is sitting on is paying for, let me know. To me, that's a complete mystery..
by Francois in Paris on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 07:20:39 PM EST
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Well, I admit I'm a bit more familiar with the humanities, but in general masters programs work differently - terminal masters candidates, i.e. those not  doing the degree as the first stage of their Ph.D program, do have to pay. Back when I was applying the rule of thumb was that some private programs had a two tier system for those admitted into the doctoral program - some students getting a five year deal - no tuition, stipend, three year teaching requirement - some getting no aid - these have been being phased out. The others, including Stanford, gave full rides to everyone they admitted. The public ones generally had year by year financial aid systems - i.e. you had to reapply each year, with of course a teaching requirement unless you get outside funding.

 The ten billion btw, provides a good chunk of the operating budget which a quick google tells me was $2.6 billion (not including capital spending or hospitals). Just over half of that goes to salaries and benefits. Nineteen percent comes from students.  Sixteen percent comes from the endowment, another five percent from non-endowment gifts. With the long boom market and the somewhat related increase in giving, the endowment has been skyrocketing. But using a bit over 4% of the endowment for current spending, which I believe is pretty typical, doesn't sound that strange as a long term conservative approach. These are very wealthy institutions but they also spend absolute fortunes.

by MarekNYC on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 01:37:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...they also spend absolute fortunes.

Sure, but on what ? The economics of top-level US academic institutions remain beyond the comprehension of my limited brain power. Sort of a "US DoD" syndrom, enormous expenditures, little pressure to scale them down and very modest delivery.
by Francois in Paris on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 08:12:26 AM EST
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I think you are not living in a parallel universe, but perhaps you are not properly understanding the graduate school enrollment issue. My daughter went to a prestigious east coast school for graduate school (M.A.) and it cost about $2000 a year, mostly for airplane tickets home. She had a small scholarship, a teaching assistantship, and a summer job, and has no debt at this point. Many of her friends are in similar situations.

The American system, like the French system, must be properly "played," but it is perfectly possible to get into a good school, if you have good test scores and grades, even if you come from a poor family and a third rate high school, and, further, if you fall off the tracks for a few years, it's possible--although hard--to recover and make up the difference later.

Further, the cost of excellent state schools is a complicated formula where all costs and benefits are not immediately apparent. For example, the University of Colorado, a huge state school with about 25,000 undergraduates, boasts several Nobel Laureates and has a broad range of leading programs. Cost for out-of-state students is about $32k per year (all inclusive), comparable to the cost of high-end private schools. The in-state cost is around $15k, which I know sounds outrageous to Europeans. However, this does not take into account grants, rebates, and special case situations that apply to many students. For example, there is an automatic state reimbursement of (I forget what, about $1000 a year) that everybody gets, and funding from the state College Opportunity Fund worth about $1400. You can get federal Pell grants for up to $4000 a year, FSEOG grants for up to $2000, CLEAP grants to $2000, and a bunch of others. You can get a full scholarship by signing up for the military via the ROTC program. Also, most churches give small scholarships to a few students, as do small businesses and parents' employers.

In addition, the state school systems have a broad range of opportunities. In Colorado (which is not unique) there is the very highly rated School of Mines, the excellent Colorado State University, a number of smaller four year schools like Western State, for example, plus extension schools located at remote sites (e.g. CSU has a small campus in Pueblo, 200 miles from the main campus). Also there are two year schools that allow kids who didn't quite make the honor roll in High School to take basic classes that are 100% transferrable to the regular colleges, at a fraction of the cost. Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, for example, costs about $200 per credit hour (16 hours being a typical full course load).

So the bottom line is that there are some kids who come out with huge loans, but plenty of others don't, or have only small loans.

by asdf on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 01:45:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It very much depends on what you are studying.

In some disciplines, yes, there is no excuse for paying for a PhD.  (These include subjects where you won't earn enough money afterward to pay back loans anyway.)  In others, you incur lots of debt.  Sometimes it's a combination.

My sisters and I are good examples.  We went to different grad schools in different subjects.  I paid almost all of my grad school expenses through loans, one sister got funding for about half of hers, and the other was completely funded and paid nothing.  Each situation was normal for our respective fields of study at the time.

And yes, there is dramatically less funding available for foreign students, at least from the universities and programs themselves.

In my grad program, most of our international students were funded by the US government, oddly, which had several programs set up for students from "emerging democracies."  Thus we had students from Eritrea, Albania, Azerbaijan and Hungary, but none from France, the UK or Germany.  (We also had students from India, Tawian and South Korea, but their funding was different.)

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 02:56:18 PM EST
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