How college tuition in the US compares to the rest of the world

EDsmart analyzed recent data that shows higher education tuition costs in the United States are higher than in any other nation except for one: England.

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The last months of 2022 brought many political surprises. Among them were the rulings of two federal courts that halted President Joe Biden's student debt relief initiative, which aimed to forgive the debts of tens of millions of people. Shortly after it was first unveiled, the government announced it had to stop the application process while seeking to overturn the court orders to hinder the program.

The lofty costs of higher education in the United States have been the subject of debate for many years. They have gained greater prominence after multiple statements by President Biden expressing his concerns about Americans carrying student loans while still trying to secure financial stability.

As tuition costs keep rising, high school graduates are considering alternatives to postsecondary education, including intensive, short-term training courses—especially in the tech industry. Another option is studying abroad, where students can attend prestigious universities in countries where the cost of living and tuition is cheaper. 

Data shows that settling for a high school diploma is the least convenient choice. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a 38-member watchdog for economic growth comprising the world's wealthiest and most developed nations, reports that people with postsecondary education—technical or vocational training or university degrees—are more likely to get a job and excel in the labor market. And numbers are growing in OECD countries. Among 25-34 year-olds, those with higher degrees increased to 48% in 2021, up from just 27% in 2000.

EDsmart analyzed the most recent data on higher education provided by the OECD to see how college tuition costs for public institutions compare across different countries. England was the only country with an average undergraduate cost higher than the U.S. The other countries were ranked from the most similar price to the least expensive (in U.S. dollars) by comparison.

England and U.S. lead 12 nations for cost of bachelor's degree

Bar chart showing that England and U.S. have most expensive college tuition compared to 12 other countries.

EdSmart

Among public institutions in OECD countries, about a quarter do not charge national students for undergraduate tuition, including Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Turkey. On the other end of the spectrum is England, where colleges are independently run, government-supported institutions that can come with higher price tags. In both England and U.S., at least 80% of students receive some form of financial support, which can range from grants, loans, and scholarships.

United States

Two university students walking together on a college campus.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $9,212
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $12,171
- 51.2% of 25-34 year olds were college-educated in 2020
--- 3.6% points higher than OECD average

The average cost of a college degree in the United States, without considering room, board, or books, was calculated by averaging the tuition of public, private, and for-profit institutions.

Federal Reserve data reveals that more than 4 in 10 people who attended college took out student loans. Among those individuals, adults under 30 have taken out more educational loans than older adults, consistent with borrowing trends. In 2021, the median individual debt was between $20,000 and $25,000.

England

University of Manchester campus.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $12,255 ($3,043 more than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: data not available
- 57.5% of 25-34 year olds were college-educated in 2020
--- 9.9% points higher than OECD average

A university degree in England can cost 20% more than in the U.S. However, payment terms of student loans are more flexible. The U.K. government's website forewarns potential borrowers they will start paying off debt once their income reaches a certain amount and that the size of monthly repayments will depend on how much they earn—not on what they owe.

Ireland

Students walking outside at Trinity College University of Dublin.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $8,363 ($850 less than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $9,736 ($2,435 less than in the U.S.)
- 62.9% of 25-34 year olds were college-educated in 2020
--- 15.3% points higher than OECD average

Simon Harris, minister of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, implemented the Higher Education Authority Act 2022. The milestone education policy was designed to provide disadvantaged students with more scholarship options, among other reforms. Also, in late 2022, Harris allocated $27.8 million in funding to Ireland's five tech universities.

Chile

San Sebastian University campus.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $8,131 ($1,081 less than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $11,274 ($897 less than in the U.S.)
- Data for college-educated 25-34 year olds was not available

In 2019, the cost of a college degree in Chile was just over a thousand dollars less than in the U.S. That same year, hundreds of thousands of Chileans took to the streets to demand free, quality public education from the government. The protests springboarded the political career of current leftist President Gabriel Boric, a former student union leader. They paved the way to seek constitutional amendments to reduce economic and social inequality.

Japan

Students at University of Tokyo.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $5,144 ($4,069 less than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $5,139 ($7,032 less than in the U.S.)
- 64.8% of 25-34 year olds were college-educated in 2020
--- 17.3% points higher than OECD average

The Japanese Constitution states that everyone has the right to receive an equal education without distinction between men and women. It adds that such compulsory education is free. A total of 4,597 institutions make up Japan's higher education landscape, offered to international students through the Study in Japan program. These include universities, junior and professional training colleges, and graduate and tech schools.

Australia

Students walking on University of Sydney campus.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $5,031 ($4,182 less than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $9,006 ($3,165 less than in the U.S.)
- 54.3% of 25-34 year olds were college-educated in 2020
--- 6.8% points higher than OECD average

Australia promotes itself as a country with an outstanding postsecondary education system. Among the policies seeking to protect and ensure the success of international students is the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000. The act has three primary purposes: to oversee international students' well-being, protect the quality of their educational experience, and allow them access to current and accurate information.

Canada

Students walking on University of Toronto campus.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $4,924 ($4,289 less than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $8,724 ($3,447 less than in the U.S.)
- 66.4% of 25-34 year olds were college educated in 2020
--- 18.8% points higher than OECD average

The Canadian higher education system's operation and regulation depend on each province, so studying in British Columbia can be more appealing to some, while others might opt for Nova Scotia. Overall, postsecondary education in Canada is highly popular: Year after year, it maintains its spot in the top five countries with the highest number of college graduates in the 25-34 age bracket. Keep in mind that tuition is not free anywhere in the nation, especially not for international students.

South Korea

Students at the university campus in Seoul.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $4,814 ($4,399 less than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $6,185 ($5,985 less than in the U.S.)
- 69.3% of 25-34 year olds were college-educated in 2020
--- 21.8% points higher than OECD average

After decades of political and educational reforms, South Korea launched the Study in Korea initiative, inviting foreigners to ride its "hallyu," the expanding wave and popularity of Korean culture worldwide. Some of the benefits the Asian country offers potential foreign pupils are a highly competitive educational system and guidance toward career development and employment.

Latvia

Riga University campus.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $4,715 ($4,498 less than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $4,898 ($7,273 less than in the U.S.)
- 45.5% of 25-34 year olds were college-educated in 2020
--- 2.0% points lower than OECD average

The European Union is aiming to increase the number of people between 25 and 34 who complete postsecondary education. It intends to reach an average of 45% in 2030. Latvia, the Baltic country with less than 2 million inhabitants, exceeded the objective in 2021, as did 12 other EU member nations. More than 10,000 college attendees in Latvia are foreigners, roughly 13% of the higher education student body.

New Zealand

Students at the University of Auckland.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $4,621 ($4,591 less than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $5,951 ($6,220 less than in the U.S.)
- 45.3% of 25-34 year olds were college-educated in 2020
--- 2.2% points lower than OECD average

Under the motto "Think new," the New Zealand government affirms that employers value university graduates because of their ability to think critically and creatively solve problems. With an emphasis on soft skills, the island nation promotes a future-focused education system that offers official degrees through online classes and on-campus programs.

Lithuania

Students studying at Vilnius University library.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $4,020 ($5,192 less than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $7,893 ($4,278 less than in the U.S.)
- 57.5% of 25-34 year olds were college-educated in 2020
--- 9.9% points higher than OECD average

With a webpage translated into more than 12 languages, Lithuania aspires to attract students from all over the world into its higher education programs. Job opportunities are available for those attending university, and the country offers residence for 15 months after graduation. Living costs are affordable, and Lithuania has some of Europe's fastest and least expensive internet services.

Hungary

Students walking on university campus in Budapest.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $3,783 ($5,429 less than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $7,990 ($4,181 less than in the U.S.)
- 32.9% of 25-34 year olds were college-educated in 2020
--- 14.6% points lower than OECD average

With a vast higher education history of over 650 years, Hungary presents itself as a promising option for future professionals. An academic catalog of more than 500 courses in several languages and the possibility of obtaining double-major degrees issued jointly with other European universities round up the offer. Also, the cost of living in Eastern Europe is generally lower than in its Western counterpart.

Netherlands

Students and bicycles at Amsterdam university.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $2,622 ($6,591 less than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $2,622 ($9,549 less than in the U.S.)
- 55.6% of 25-34 year olds were college-educated in 2020
--- 8.1% points higher than OECD average

The higher education student body of the Netherlands represents more than 160 countries that blend with its diverse society. The Dutch government touts its postsecondary institutions for offering the highest number of English-taught programs in continental Europe. It also publicizes the teaching style, describing it as interactive and student-centered.

Israel

Students and buildings at Tel Aviv University.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $2,604 ($6,608 less than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $3,519 ($8,652 less than in the U.S.)
- 46.0% of 25-34 year olds were college-educated in 2020
--- 1.5% points lower than OECD average

To attract students worldwide, Israel implemented a postsecondary education system fully in English. Although the cost is higher than traditional studies in Hebrew, foreigners can apply for scholarships from the Student Authority to cover tuition; the applicant must pay the rest of the expenses. Financial aid is applicable exclusively toward university-level degrees.

Italy

Students take tests at a university in Turin, Italy.

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- Average tuition for a bachelor's degree: $1,985 ($7,227 less than in the U.S.)
- Average tuition for a master's degree: $2,221 ($9,950 less than in the U.S.)
- 28.3% of 25-34 year olds were college-educated in 2020
--- 19.3% points lower than OECD average

In addition to expanding sciences at its technical colleges, Italy also places importance in humanities and culture. Living up to its historical legacy as an epicenter for the arts, Italy has a higher education system tailored for fine arts, music, and dance known as AFAM, an acronym for "Alta Formazione Artistica e Musicale." The Italian government states that due to its efforts, these three types of institutions, both public and private, share an equally high academic standard.

This story originally appeared on EDsmart and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.