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It's not as blunt as the US system (money, "good schools" and emphasis on fucking stupid extra-curricular activities heavily skewed towards upper middle classes)

Money isn't an issue for the US equivalent of the top grandes ecoles - if you get in and are from a family with below median income you'll have a free ride for tuition, housing, and food. You have to be very well off to pay the full price of tuition these days. The real problems are that you're likely to go to a mediocre high school if you're poor, not have parents to help you out, have poor college admissions advisors, less time and money for extracurriculars, not be able to afford SAT prep classes, etc.  In other words similar to the issues that exist in France, though my impression is that the difference in public school quality between poor and wealthy neighbourhoods is much worse in the US than France.  On the other hand if you're non white you get the benefit of affirmative action which can compensate for some of this, though many minority kids who get in are from the upper middle classes, with many of the rest children of well educated but poor immigrants.

by MarekNYC on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 04:00:47 PM EST
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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. The "solution" is debt as, more and more, assistance is drifting away from grants and towards loans. I agree US universities have started to modestly revise their cost structures and their tuition policies that got completely out of hands over the past 20 years, but it's pretty recent.

Elite American universities are a very expansive proposition for undergrads (and a dubious one, IMHO). After that, you probably get a much better ROI from Harvard or Stanford at the graduate and post-grad levels. Although at the graduate level, it probably doesn't have much to do with the objective quality of the education and much more with the name (except for a few institutions with truly outstanding standards : MIT, Wharton, etc).
by Francois in Paris on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 04:19:44 PM EST
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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
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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
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...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
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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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Frankly, I don't see anything wrong with debt, part time jobs, working summers + available scholarships.

My wife and I are from the baby boomer generation, (OK, first half), with large extended families--lots of nephews, nieces, cousins, etc.  Our parents were upper/lower class to lower/middle class.  Looking across two generations (ours, including our cousins, and the one following), there are about 80 people.  No one did not go to college due to not being able to find the money to go.  3 unfortunately had drug problems and their were two with mental disabilities, and three did not want to go (married after high school and farm kids, wanting that life style).  The rest went to college and graduated.

The types of colleges covered a wide range, but it was an interesting discussion, because we realized that there were some very bright kids (valedictorians, high test scores) who really chose there colleges based on comfort levels, where friends were going, expectations of friends and families.  In other words, a number of kids could have easily qualified for higher ranked schools (top 25 prestige schools)than they went to, both scholastically and through financial aid--but just wanted to go somewhere else--often the state school, which are great academicaly as we looked at them, but don't have the prestige.)  It looks like 5 of us went to "elite" undergrad programs.

So I think there are some similarities to what Jerome described about France, in that the high school you are in, or expectations of your peers and family are likely to dictate where you go to school.  But our experience says that great grades, high test scores (like SAT's) and motivation to go to the "elite", maybe elite-lite, schools,,,you can do that--finances (scholarship, loans, part time jobs, summer jobs) will not stop you.

by wchurchill on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 09:18:50 PM EST
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Per-student public financing of state universities have gone down a lot in the past 20 years and tuitions up a lot. You boomers have had it very easy compared to current 20 somethings.
by Francois in Paris on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 11:02:27 AM EST
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It would be interesting to see some study on the big picture here.  What has happened to all the factors?--tuitions, scholarships, available loans, maybe the student job market (not sure that could be measured--but maybe how much of student expenses are paid by student earnings today versus the '70's.)

My impressions on this are based on reading about some of these factors individually (like I think you are right that tuitions have gone up rapidly), and on anecdotal things--family and friends' children's experiences.

Have scholarships increased for example?--I think endowments for private universities have, but I don't know about scholarships.  

I'll look around, but I haven't seen such an all encompassing article.

by wchurchill on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 12:54:11 PM EST
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Gee, I haven't read about that in a while and I don't have references handy but my overall impression is that public financing of state Us has not kept up with exploding enrollments over the past 30 years, making everybody's share of the pie much smaller, hence increased dependence on tuition and private funding (donations, revenues from patents) and quite altering the organization and independence of the universities. I believe too that operating costs have gone up in many universities, public and private (more professors? better paid? bigger bureaucracies?).

No time for a google dive so I let that to you :)
by Francois in Paris on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 01:26:02 PM EST
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Well, state university funding is complex, but it's a combination of actual state funding (not a lot in the grand scheme, mainly salaries, see below), university endowments, research grants, contract revenues and income from other sources, including sports-related revenue.  Reliance on private funding doesn't necessarily mean anybody's got a smaller piece of pie.

In the 10 years since I left grad school, in fact, my school has been able to provide much more financial support for students than they could when I was there.  (In my program, it was basically no financial support at the time, which is why I took on tens of thousands of dollars in debt, now mercifully paid off.)

Successful alumni give a lot of money, some of it to the universities themselves (general funds, etc.) and some directly to the programs, schools or departments from which they graduated.

In the case of my graduate school, they've nearing the end of an eight-year general fundraising campaign that has raised more than $1.6 billion so far (the goal is $2b) and will increase the university's endowment by more than $628 million.  This fundraising campaign includes goals for each school or department.

Sports is also a big part of the puzzle, and not from ticket revenues, either.  The university has recently decided to use 100 percent of revenues from sales of trademark-licensed products on scholarships and financial aid.  Those products include T-shirts and caps bearing the school logo, which given that it's a major sports school with basketball jerseys worn around the world (I'm not exaggerating, I've seen them), that is a lot of money.

Meanwhile, in the actual program I attended within the university, an anonymous donor just endowed a professorship with a $3m gift.  The school says "private funds" (whatever those are) account for 78 percent of its budget, not including payroll, which is covered by the university (except for those endowed professorships, of which there are several).

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 02:31:27 PM EST
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both my undergrad and grad schools are private, and they have been very successful with their fund raising programs.  Same kinds of experiences where very successful peoplle graduating from certain departments have made multi-million dollar gifts.  Grants were very strong through 2000, slowed some when the bubble broke, but they are continuing to do well now.  No luck on the sports programs unfortunately--not big on the win/loss i'm afraid.  My initial cuts on the internet have shown quite a bit of information available for individual colleges, but I haven't been able to find any summary information yet.
by wchurchill on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 05:23:13 PM EST
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I forgot to mention that no small part of that private funding is corporate, and not without controversy.  A major pharmaceutical company endowed a professorship in my program when I was there, and we had a computer lab named after a major tobacco company.  Both prompted major complaints about professional integrity, ethics, etc., from the more earnest students (of which there were quite a few) and major snarkiness from the entire student body.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Mar 27th, 2006 at 02:07:44 AM EST
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