Obtaining a higher education in the United States is expensive. Tuition at an average public university was $24,061 in 2015, while private universities had a price tag of $47,831. An average family in the States would have to use 85% of its income to pay for one child’s private education for one year, not including housing, food, and other expenses. While most students are not expected to pay the full sticker price, student loan debt has reached over 1.3 trillion dollars and is still growing. In Denmark, however, students from undergraduates to PhDs pay nothing for their education. In fact, they are paid about $850 a month by the government for up to 6 years.
Denmark’s higher education system is one of the most robust in the world. Under the State Education program, Statens Uddannelsesstøtte, Danish students are provided a monthly stipend by the state. This stipend is typically used for housing, food, and other expenses and applies to any degree program at a Danish university as well as when studying abroad. The education itself is also paid for by the state, meaning most students graduate without any debt. Completely free education also allows for equity in the work force, for everyone has the opportunity to attend a university. But how could such a system be fiscally possible and sustainable?
The Danish welfare state has received significant attention in the past year as everyone from Bernie Sanders to the creators of South Park have made reference to the Scandinavian country’s idyllic appearance. In many ways, the reality actually exceeds the expectations. Throughout their lives, Danes can expect free healthcare, free primary and secondary education, more than free higher education, two years of full unemployment coverage, generous family leave, sizable state retirement benefit, and a plethora of other programs.
Denmark supports its people through every stage of life and through any hardship that may arise. For this, Danes pay heftily in taxes. Upwards of 60% of a citizen’s income may be taken through a variety of taxes to municipalities and the state. Yet, Denmark has been named the 2016’s happiest country in the world by the World Happiness Report.
The American public needs to reevaluate the importance of education. A better educated public naturally reduces unemployment, poverty, and social issues like racism and xenophobia. Denmark has proven that supporting government-backed higher education is possible and sustainable. We ought to follow in the example of the happy, well-educated, and socially conscious European country. If the United States invested in its youth like Scandinavia has, perhaps the country would be a more accepting and equitable place.