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Americans Looking For Affordable Degrees Head To Germany


Here's an old way of thinking. Young people from prosperous families study abroad at some point. Young people from less prosperous families have no chance. It's pricey to travel overseas.


That reality is shifting in some ways. A university education in the United States is now so expensive that some students can save money by enrolling overseas. One popular destination is Germany, home to 4,300 American students at last count.

INSKEEP: Many programs there are taught in English, and tuition is often free. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has this encore presentation.


SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Germany is the third most popular choice for American students who choose to attend university abroad. Only the U.K. and Canada are more popular. In Berlin, one of the institutions attracting U.S. students is the highly rated Humboldt University. One American who is studying here is 27-year-old K.C. Detrow from New York, who is working on a master's degree in American studies. She says she chose Humboldt over six U.S. offers, including at Columbia and Berkeley.

K.C. DETROW: I just have time and space in Berlin that I really think I wouldn't have access to if I were living in the Bay Area, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago. I have an affordable lifestyle. And, you know, I have a room of my own. I have time and space to sit in my - in my little apartment here in Berlin and kind of exhale and read and study.

NELSON: Detrow receives a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service to cover her living expenses. As for tuition, there is none.

DETROW: And I really cannot even compare that to what I'd be getting in the states for any amount of money because when you're talking free versus $50,000, I feel like there's no contest. I can't justify going back.

NELSON: Fellow Humboldt student Mari Jarris agrees. The 22-year-old from Shelburne, Vt. says she plans to defer earning her PhD at Princeton so she can finish her master's degree in Germany.

MARI JARRIS: Yeah, I actually - I expected it to be maybe a couple thousand euros a semester or something for foreign students. And I was shocked to see that it was - you just have to pay the semester dues that every student pays. And you end up getting more benefits than you are really paying for because you get the semester subway pass and then all the student benefits.

NELSON: The student fee varies depending on the university, but is generally in the low hundreds of dollars. There are several reasons why Germany is generous when it comes to higher education. For one thing, popular sentiment in Germany considers tuition fees unjust. An aging population and shortage of skilled workers also makes the German government eager to attract qualified young people. There are also direct benefits to the German state, says Ulrich Grothus, who is deputy secretary-general of the German Academic Exchange Service.

ULRICH GROTHUS: If only 30 percent of graduates would stay for at least five years, they would pay within these five years - and even while they are studying - more taxes than the taxpayer pays for their education.

NELSON: American study student Detrow says she would like to stay in Germany and teach once she is finished with her education. But she may find the German job market less welcoming to foreigners than the education system. A study by the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration found that 3 in 10 foreign graduates spent more than a year looking for employment while 1 in 10 found no jobs at all. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.