As an American student studying in Spain, I receive credit based on my performance in two areas. I can receive up to four credits at my home institution for outstanding performance as an intern at a Spanish company; the other four credits are awarded according to the grade I receive in a class taken at a Spanish institution of higher learning. Coming into the program I had many questions, the first of which were about my internship; but since starting my internship I have become more and more preoccupied by questions about my Spanish-language class. Work is work, no matter the country, but higher education is a full-blown system that varies dramatically from place to place.

What are the differences between the American system of higher education and the Spanish system?

The most obvious difference is price. In the United States, even a public university can cost up to $10,000 per year (approximately 8.035€). A private university can cost up to $60,000 (48.210€) per year for a minimum of 3 years! And, of course, a good student will always choose the private option because in the United States, degrees from private universities are simply considered more prestigious, and can make a student much more marketable upon graduating than a degree from a public institution. In Spain this is not so.

There are far more public universities than private, almost all of which are more affordable than their American counterparts. This is at least in part because of public funding. The Spanish taxation system makes allowances for institutions of higher education, thereby greatly reducing the cost of attendance for individual students. Although the U.S. government does subsidize some universities, private institutions are often exempt. Furthermore, tax dollars are more often spent funding federal programs for need-based educational grants and loans, but not on the university system itself. When an undergraduate degree can cost up to $225,000, such an indirect system of government funding cannot possibly suffice.

The Spanish teaching is oldfashioned

On the other hand, as I learn more about the Spanish system of higher education, I have to wonder if at least some of the exorbitant cost of American university is worth it. Most of my professors in Spain have been teaching for over 50 years! Of course, there are professors like that in the U.S., but they are not the majority.

Moreover, even when professors have been teaching for that long, their institutions often require them to conduct extracurricular research and publish academic articles so that they stay as sharp as ever. In a similar vein, I have heard from Spanish university students themselves that, often times, the requirements and components of a degree have not changed since their parents (and sometimes grandparents) were in school. I certainly do not believe it takes $60,000 to keep an institution dynamic and innovative, but is it possible that maybe Spanish institutions could use a little more funding?

It’s extremely difficult to say whether one system is better than the other. Both the Spanish and American systems have their advantages and disadvantages. I have always resented U.S. educational institutions for their absolutely unbelievable price tags, but the more I learn about the Spanish institution, at which I now take classes, the more easily I can discern the various idiosyncrasies of the American system…and I’m no longer so sure it deserves my immutable scorn.

by Sydney Ramgolam

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