Proudly presenting the original English version of Jeffrey Gedmin's article in the conservative German daily WELT: "Universitäten - Vergleich zwischen Deutschland und Amerika ist zum Lachen". Jeffrey Gedmin is director of the Aspen Institute Berlin.
Every time I hear someone compare the German university system to the American, I have to laugh. It's like comparing apples and oranges. Culture matters and in this case, America culture truly ticks differently.
I grew up in a suburb of Washington, D.C. and decided to keep it simple. I wanted to stay local for studies. The possibilities within a one hour radius included: George Mason University, Northern Virginia Community College, George Washington University, Georgetown University, American University, University of Maryland, University of the District of Columbia, Howard University (a mostly black institution), Galludet College (for the deaf), Catholic University, Trinity College (a mostly female institution) and Johns Hopkins University. Americans do like choice. There are 3,500 colleges and universities in the U.S. We pay for choice, too.
A year’s tuition for undergraduate study at Harvard costs $26,000. Princeton, where Joschka Fischer now teaches, is a cool $27,000. Graduate studies at Georgetown University in Washington, where I did my Ph.D., cost today $31,000 a year. So only the rich can study in the U.S., right? Wrong. Price tags vary. For state universities, if you
have residence in the state in question, you go for free or pay a nominal fee, depending on the state. I had generous parents who could afford it and who helped me attend private universities. I also worked, making sandwiches in a restaurant, tearing tickets in a movie theatre, answering phones as a night clerk in a downtown apartment building. German friends tell me I was oppressed. Indoctrinated by the system, though, I thought I was having fun. Anyway, there always seemed to be time for beer and baseball and I thought the education I got was okay.
I got financial assistance as well. At American University--where I did my undergraduate studies--nearly half of its 7,000 students received financial assistance last year, either through gifts or loans from the university. The universities can afford to help. They are enormous fundraising machines. Much of the kindness comes from alumni. Yale just got a gift of $25 million from one of its former students. American universities also get help from their communities. Eli Lilley, an Indiana-based pharmaceutical company, just gave $7.5 million to the local univeristy's Cancer Centre. Indiana University for its part maintains strong ties to the local community. Law students work in a legal clinic to assist families with limited incomes. Some universities rely on revenue from sports. Oklahoma University’s football team hauls in about $25 million a year, from television, tickets fees and market merchandising. My father went to Virginia Polytehcnic Institute about 60 years ago. Every Saturday he still wears his school sweat shirt watching VPI football on television. Every year, he writes a check.
Some say you have to attend an elite university to get to the top in America. Wrong again. True, Bill Clinton and Bill Gates went to Harvard, George W. Bush to Yale. But then Condoleeza Rice went to the University of Denver. Howard Schultz, the master mind behind Starbucks, went to the University of Michigan--on a football scholarship. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, went to Denison University in Ohio. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi attended Trinity College. Ralph Lauren never finished City College in New York.
Of course, the elite universities are not bad. Don't think of Harvard as a university. It is more like a country. Its endowment is $29 billion. That’s the GDP of Latvia. It boasts 43 Nobel Prize winners among current and former faculty. That’s more than Russia, Japan and Italy combined. Some deplore it all. They say American universities are all about money. Americans students tend think differently. They think a little like shoppers--and believe that you get what you pay before.