There’s been a lot of news lately about the cost and value of college educations in the United States. The College Board and American Student Assistance have some chilling facts about postsecondary education in America:
- Total outstanding debt for U.S. student loans is between $902 billion and $1 trillion.
- 14 percent of borrowers are struggling to pay back their debt with at least one payment past due.
- If you’ve saved for college, you’re going to fork over a lot of money. The cost of tuition for just one school year (2013-2014) ranged anywhere from $8,893 for state residents at public schools and $30,094 for students at private schools.
You’d think the cost and debt brought on by a college education would be worth it as long as that degree puts you in a job that earns more, right? But that’s not exactly guaranteed. While the unemployment rate for recent college graduates (aged 22 to 27) fell to just 5.6 percent in 2013, not all of those former students are working in a position that requires a degree—or pays for one. According to The Economist, about 42 percent of recent graduates are in positions that don’t require a bachelor’s degree and 260,000 of these former students are making minimum wage, according to CNN.com.
A New Approach to College Education
Even with all these negative statistics, a college education is still vital. College graduates have a better chance at finding employment in a tough job market and while a degree doesn’t guarantee high pay, it offers a better chance at it than not having a degree.
But students and parents have to begin thinking differently about the process of choosing a school and a major in order to increase the value the student gets from the education while reducing the debt they carry. An alternative that many are now exploring are tuition-free education programs abroad.
There are tuition-free and low-tuition opportunities all over the globe including in Sweden, Norway and Germany. Some of the most popular programs right now are found at Finland’s University of Helsinki. U.S. News estimates that students can live and travel comfortably on just $1,000 a month while they attend the university.
Why Study Abroad?
The college years have always been an important time for young adults. In college, teens are given more freedom and independence than they’re generally used to, which is important in getting them ready for adulthood.
An education abroad offers even more than simple independence. International students learn about other cultures. They discover how a global economy functions and they gain an intricate knowledge of another culture’s subtleties as well as extensive foreign language skills.
One Requirement to Watch: International Student Health Insurance
As you would with any college, you have to apply and get accepted to the various international schools offering tuition-free education. Once you qualify, you’ll need to get your passport and obtain a residence permit before you can begin studying. Each school in each country has its own requirements for international student health insurance that you must meet in order to get your permit. The coverage required can include:
- A limited deductible
- Medical expense limits of 30,000 euros or more
- Insurance that lasts for your entire stay (not just a temporary travel plan)
In addition to making sure your insurance meets the school or country’s requirements, you also want to consider coverage options that will protect you from the many risks you face. You may want to think about coverage for organized sports, repatriation benefits so that you can come back to the U.S. if medically necessary, and prescription coverage. Other benefits to consider include dental coverage and international life insurance protection.
College educations are still valuable but if you want to stand out from the crowd of students graduating in your year, then you need to increase the value of the degree you get. By studying abroad, you compound the value of the education both on a personal and professional level. Even better, you allow yourself the benefit of getting started in your career without the crushing obligation of student loan debt hamstringing your future and limiting the risks you can allow yourself to take.