Higher education and populism


Many of the democratic candidates lining up to face Trump in 2020 are campaigning with a populist slogan, like For the People. Populism by the democratic left often targets big corporations, but also higher education. Being a much more privatized system, university ends up being much more expensive than it is here in Europe. Not everyone can afford that. Trying to tackle this inequity, democrats, like Bernie Sanders, have come forth with bold campaign promises such as "tuition-free college". Partly growing up in the U.S., the high price of education became a major reason why I studied in Maastricht.

The money that goes into an American college education actually starts piling up way before you even go to university. As a high school student, you are required to take standardized exams, such as the ACT or the SAT, (short for "American college testing" and "scholastic assessment test") as a part of many college application procedures. Both tests cost around 60 dollars and can be taken multiple times. Along with that, tutors and prep classes ranging anywhere from 70 to 2000 dollars are also a popular choice.  

Applying to university also comes with a price tag. On average you pay around 75 bucks for every application you submit. And if graduate school is in the cards for you, you can brace yourself for another, even pricier round of tests and application fees.

But the biggest deal-breaker for me were the high tuition fees. An annual tuition of 20,000 is considered to be a good deal and when someone is out of student debt by their early 30s they have done something right. The four-year medical program I am following in Maastricht could cost me up to 200,000 in the US. And this does not even include living expenses.

Education is one of those things that should not only transcend but also bridge the gap between the upper and lower tiers of society. A democratic win next year might make that a bit more of a reality. In effect, their populist agenda may actually work towards decreasing instead of strengthening the divide between "the people" and "the elite".

Nina Schröder, master’s student Arts-Klinisch Onderzoeker

This column is part of a special about Europe with Martin Paul, President of Maastricht University as guest editor-in-chief.

Higher education and populism