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Germany’s free education raises questions about US student debt

As Homecoming week approaches, students will be reminded exactly why they took out loans worth more than their parents’ cars as they are showered with free T-shirts, carnivals and the always reassuring air of school pride.

But students who are too bogged down by more and more student debt while they live on ramen and the occasional Red Bull might want to consider trading in their green and gold for black, red and yellow.

Last week, Lower Saxony became the last state in Germany to scrap tuition fees at public universities.

Dorothee Stapelfeldt, president of the Hamburg Parliament, told the European newspaper The Times, following the vote, that charging for education is socially unjust and discourages young people who don’t come from an academic background.

Germany’s move to remove students from the crippling public- and private-loan system raises the question: What has the American way of doing things done for students lately?

Universal free education is a far cry from the U.S. system wherein students have racked up $1.2 trillion in outstanding Federal loans, with 71 percent of college seniors graduating with student loan debt. What’s more, the most recent graduating class has been given the honorary title of “Most Indebted Ever.” 

Given these statistics, the answer seems to be that the American way hasn’t done very much for students.

The root of the problem lies in tradition. In Germany, higher education has historically been seen as an investment in the country’s future and in the best interest of the public. In the U.S., home of the ‘me versus you’ and race-to-the-top mentalities, higher education is considered only a personal investment. 

As always, the American way is the unequivocally right (and only) way, except when it gets in the way of everything Americans cherish most.

According to researchers, student debt is affecting free enterprise and home ownership: two of the largest tenets of the American manifesto.

Preliminary research,  co-authored by Penn State professor Brent W. Ambrose and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, has shown that in places where students have higher levels of loan debt, they are less likely to start a small business. This makes sense, given that many students are graduating with an average of $29,000 in debt. 

Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has also shown that 30-somethings with a history of student loan debt are buying fewer homes than other 30-somethings.

While fundamental differences in governance will probably keep American students from ever enjoying the luxuries of an entirely free education, the bottom line is that something needs to be done about the overburdening student loan scheme before countries such as Germany become better at being American than Americans themselves. 

Roberto Roldan is a junior majoring in mass communications.