Denmark sparks academic reform with free college tuition

While students in the U.S. pay an average of $24,061 per year for public school and $47,831 per year for private, students in Denmark are being paid to attend college.

The program is the Statens Uddannelsesstotte (state-funded education) fund, a government-issued grant given to students without the necessity of ever being repaid. The grant is dependent on the family’s household income and whether or not the student lives at home. Home birds receive around 3078 krones ($465) per month, and those who left receive around 5829 krones ($900) per month. A student may additionally receive further funds for academic achievements. By contrast, the average American takes $28,400 home in student loans, according to a report by the Institute for College Access and Success in 2014.

As a result, Danish students are free to choose their courses and career paths without financial anxiety, while American students gape at the college tuitions and agonize over the prospect of a lifetime of debt ahead. Additionally, Denmark has one of the highest graduation rates of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and one of the lowest unemployment rates in teens at only 11 percent.

The program is also assessed to be an asset to Denmark’s overall economic status, as higher education tends to drive a strong economy. Typically when a person enters the job market earlier, they stay longer.

But not every country can afford to pay students instead of the other way around. Around 60 percent of a Denmark resident’s income is collected in taxes, but in return, health care, housing, and other necessities for a comfortable life are covered. In essence, being paid to go to college is another tax benefit.

And surprisingly, Danish society seems happy to defend their taxes. To be seen as someone who doesn’t pay taxes, or pay taxes in full, would even be embarrassing, according to a story about the Danish and taxes written by Kay Mellish. The system allows Danish residents to “happily pay” their taxes, then focus on getting it back from the government in the form of college tuition, medical coverage and living expenses.

“I see it as a form of tax refund,” Mellish writes.

Many other European countries partake in similar programs as Denmark. A public university tuition in France is around $200, a great bargain compared to the American norm. In both Norway and Sweden, college tuition is free and Sweden has around 300 English-language programs, but its weather and high living expenses even out the tuition. Slovenia is tuition-free as well, and has 150 English-language programs. Germany welcomes Americans with a dual degree program: if a student is studying in college while participating in practical training at work, the student will still receive a salary even while studying.

Denmark’s Statens Uddannelsesstotte program is currently reserved only for Danish students, but looking at the country’s economic and academic improvements, perhaps America can move in a similar direction.