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AlamySwedish students wear their traditional graduation hats as they celebrate graduation day. In Sweden, college is free. But that doesn’t mean that those students don’t wind up with debt. When it comes to college tuition, we tend to focus on price — specifically, on the way that prices have gone up in the last few decades — but we often ignore context. It’s worth noting, after all, that America is only one of many countries around the globe that are trying to balance the high cost of higher education with the incredible dividends that come from a well-schooled populace. And, while some of them have come up with solutions that make education more affordable and available to students, others have not been able to do so.
Recently, Nonprofit Colleges Online, an information clearinghouse for nonprofit online education, released an infographic that puts America’s student loan problems in a historical, and worldwide, context. Its findings are surprising: For example, while American students graduate with an average debt of $27,000, undergrads in the United Kingdom pick up their degrees carrying 26,000 pounds in student debt — or more than $40,000.
And even countries with free education aren’t always a bargain. For example, in Sweden, where college is ostensibly free, students still get have to borrow to pay for college fees and a high cost of living. They graduate with, on average, $19,000 in loan debt.
Ultimately, Nonprofit Colleges’ infographic seems to suggest that, even where college is free, it isn’t always a bargain.