I recently accepted admission at the University of Iowa, located in adequately beautiful Iowa City, Iowa. If you didn’t click on the link, U of Iowa is a large public research university, a member of the Big Ten Conference, the oldest collegiate athletic conference in the country, which actually comprises of twelve member schools. I don’t understand that either.
Post-secondary education in the United States is a business. Tax dollars are earmarked and given to colleges universities by the federal government, but it is nowhere near what is necessary to pay everyone’s tuition. As such, colleges and universities are forced to charge what many people believe an exorbitant amount of money (it is quite a lot of money) for their services. Here are some hard numbers (note the ”Resident” and ”Non-Resident” columns). As a resident of Iowa, I pay the ”Resident” tuition. This is also known as ”in-state”, the counterpart of which is ”out-of-state” tuition. The U of Iowa is a very economically viable school, relatively speaking. More prestigious, and private, institutions are vastly more expensive. The University of Chicago, Stanford University, and Columbia University are such examples. These schools would easily cost a person in my position upwards of 50,000 USD per year, over four years for a grand total of around 200,000 USD, or roughly 1.3 million SEK. That is of course assuming that one pays the sticker price, which would be the case in the event that one receives no scholarships or grants. Basically, to get into such schools, your parents have to be rich enough to pay your way or you have to be exceptionally talented in some way that the school will pay your way.
Interestingly enough, the money paid to a college or a university is not for the education itself, rather for proof that you attended (and completed) college or university, in other words, a degree. This means, hypothetically speaking, anyone can walk into a lecture or lab (one should only ask first, and there is a fairly high probability the professor will respond in the affirmative), learn the material, take the tests, get a grade, and receive all the benefits of a college education for free, though they will receive no proof of anything, and as such, no degree.
The practice of taking a course for no credit is called ”auditing”. Undergraduates may audit a course to gain an edge in their major or just for the fact they are interested in the subject. Either way, all work done for an audited course receives no real credit, and thus there is no fear of failing nor any potentially negative effects on one’s GPA (grade-point average), nor is there any paperwork/scheduling to be fixed, should one decide to discontinue the course.
If one pays tuition (and thus takes courses and passes them) they can receive a degree. In essence, what one pays a college or university for is a very nice piece of paper saying you completed the requirements to receive said nice piece of paper. The degree is a very nice piece of paper, which seems frivolous, but it provides proof that you made a commitment to yourself and your education, both monetarily and literally. You can make the latter commitment, do the exact same work, receive the exact same grades, but if you want a degree to prove it, it’s going to cost you.
I will begin in the fall of this year, 2014. This fall semester will be the first step in a four-year, fairly expensive, and hopefully happy chapter of life.