US Higher Education Learn from Other Countries?
Higher education in America dates back nearly 400 years to the founding of Harvard, which was founded on the model of England’s university system. From that one institution of higher learning to the nearly 4,600 Title IV degree-granting institutions across the country today, there is still much to learn from the models of other countries.
Nikki Eschen, Ph.D., studied English Literature at Oxford University, England for a quarter when she attended University of California, Los Angeles. Eschen - who lectures at Cal State University, Northridge - was inspired by her time at Oxford.
“Oxford was great because I got to have an intensive one-on-one tutorial with a don and take a large lecture class, but even in that lecture class, there were also smaller seminars with the professor so in both cases I got to meet and talk about literature with world-class professors,” Eschen said. “It was extremely challenging. They pushed me very hard and I had to write a 10-page paper every week. The combination of close attention and high expectations were extremely difficult, but also extremely good for me as a scholar. It taught me what I was capable of doing when I committed myself.” That level of intensity in reading and writing encouraged her to decide to write an honors thesis and apply to grad school.
“I definitely think that the U.S. education system could benefit from that level of intensity and high expectation and from the one-on-one attention that holds them responsible,” Eschen said. “My students always complain that I expect too much from them and make them do too much reading and writing, but when students push themselves to meet those expectations, they really grow and learn.”
“Motivations and underlying philosophies may differ but professionals in many parts of the world are striving to make innovative differences in their higher education models to improve systems for students and the societies in which they will live and work.”
—Dr. Mary Goggins Selke, Ph.D.
Mary J. Goggins Selke, Ph.D. (Faculty, School of Education) is impressed with the model Sweden is implementing. The model, Selke noted, is one of ‘freedom with responsibility.’
“What that looks like in practice is that professors spend most of their time as guides for individuals or small groups of students rather than being sources of knowledge in large group instructional delivery formats,” she explained. “Knowledge is not viewed as something to be written about or assessed in a multiple choice test. Knowledge is viewed in terms of application to skills, ability to assess and think critically, being able to discern where problems lie and how to solve them, and preparing students for how to respond to changes that will evolve over the course of their careers.”
According to figures from The Federal Education Budget Project (1), the United States allocated 4% - about $141 billion - of its total federal budget to education in 2014. Selke noted most of the allocation went toward Title I or grants to states with Pell Grants receiving the most funding pertinent to higher education.
In Singapore, approximately 14% of the nation’s budget is allocated toward public schools (2), as well as a program that provides financial incentives for good school performance and individual or school-based enrichment programs. Selke pointed out that simply diverting more money toward education is not the answer.
“Knowledge is not viewed as something to be written about or assessed in a multiple choice test. Knowledge is viewed in terms of application to skills, ability to assess and think critically, being able to discern where problems lie and how to solve them, and preparing students for how to respond to changes that will evolve over the course of their careers.”
—Dr. Mary Goggins Selke, Ph.D.
“According to the 2013 Singapore Yearbook of Statistics (3), the average per pupil expenditure paid by the Singapore government for university students in 2012 was $20,978 in US dollars and according to the United States National Center for Education Statistics report issued in 2014 (4), the average per pupil expenditure for United States university students in 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available) was $25,576,” Selke said. “Differences in factors such as accessibility to higher education, flexible time to degree, innovative delivery options (including on-line delivery), and support for students with disabilities, and terms of student grants or loans may provide interesting points for comparison.”
Selke was also impressed with a facet of Australia’s higher education system, in which different tuition rates are charged for different areas of study.
“For example, studying a medical field costs more than to study in the arts; tuition for fields in which a student will not be paid a higher salary have lower price tags,” she said.
The drawback to that system, Selke said, is the system has been criticized as perpetuating social inequality where wealthy students enroll in more expensive and higher paying fields while less economically advantaged students are relegated to lower paying fields.
“Prospective students must be carefully advised so that they pursue fields where they have aptitude, rather than the lowest cost option,” she said. “That concern could also be countered with tuition assistance based on ability to pay, providing a new twist to scholarship support.”
While there are many positives that can be gleaned from the philosophies and systems from other countries, Selke cautioned that implementing any techniques in the United States system could present further challenges.
“There are pros and cons to any educational innovation. Medical professionals might cast this in terms of a risk-benefit analysis,” Selke said. “Motivations and underlying philosophies may differ but professionals in many parts of the world are striving to make innovative differences in their higher education models to improve systems for students and the societies in which they will live and work.”
- The Federal Educational Budget (2014). Federal Education Budget Project. (Return)
- Singapore Education Stats (2014). NationMaster. (Return)
- Yearbook of Statistics Singapore (2013). Department of Statistics Singapore. (Return)
- The Condition of Education (2014). National Center for Education Statistics. (Return)