If you’re like me, the change seems insignificant. As it is, those students that pursue a second degree usually do so in the same university, and if not, they can pick up where they left off almost anywhere else, thanks to an interchangeable European university system.
But it all hinges here: the price. Many students cannot afford the more expensive “3 Más 2,” since master’s classes cost more than bachelor’s. What’s the difference, you ask? Brace yourselves, Americans. For a public university in Spain, a year of undergraduate education costs 1,000€ ($1,100), while a year of graduate school costs under 4,000€ ($4,500). That’s right. With the new initiative, the difference is less than 3,000€. And two degrees is roughly 10,000€ in either system.
If you’re shocked, join the party. I pay in-state tuition at the University of Michigan, which, within the context of American higher education, is a steal. Compared to Spanish higher education, though, for an equivalent undergraduate degree, Michigan is an order of magnitude more expensive. Ten times. Out-of-state and private school tuitions border on twenty.
The proposed changes affect only Spain’s public universities, which are generally more prestigious than private ones. Public universities require high entrance exam scores, and they hold professors to higher standards. If you don’t make the cut, you go private. Additionally, college admissions aren’t the “game” in Spain that they are in the States; your entrance exam is the largest (or only) determinant. In fact, the population of the public Complutense University of Madrid, where I study, fluctuates year-to-year according to application volume.
By the way, the Complutense has 90,000 students. Ninety thousand. Let that sink in. The University of Michigan is large in American higher education, both in population and land mass, but it has nothing on this school. Michigan is its half. Yet despite its size, the Complutense does not have a defined “culture” like American universities, whose football teams, school spirit, and on-campus living communities cultivate an isolated world. Instead, Complutense students share flats wherever they affordably find them in the city or suburbs and commute to school. Spanish universities do not organize varsity sports conferences. Students do not share fierce patriotism.
And aesthetically, despite the unsightliness of certain Michigan buildings, the University of Michigan again has nothing on the Complutense, whose buildings are archaic (some, seventy years old), in disrepair, and plastered with graffiti. For decades, rebellious and anarchic student groups have tagged its facilities with anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, anti-whatever-they-fancy messages, and university maintenance has stopped washing them. They have neither the funding nor the perseverance to combat the perennial.
The hitch in the initiative, of course, is that students can’t afford anything. It’s a universal truth, but it especially resonates here. Spanish students do not work. Or more accurately, they cannot work. Sidestepping a discussion of the messy Spanish economy, the unemployment rate is nearly one third, weighted heavily among the young, for whom the rate is fifty. Jobs do not exist for students. Or anyone, really. And if you wait tables, the minimum wage in Spain is half the American’s (yes, that’s right —about 4€ per hour).
It gets worse. Spanish parents do not have the tradition of saving college funds, the government does not offer educational loans, and scholarships are rare. Even for doctorate students, Spanish universities do not necessarily subsidize their PhDs like American ones; some students therefore work alongside research.
Consequently, asking students to subsidize an additional 3,000€ for their own educations is significant. Especially because those educations do not guarantee employment (far from it), and because assistance is virtually non-existent. Even though I envy these students, for my education costs (my parents) a fortune, empathy comes easy too. I identify with their struggle. We all share the same goal: to better ourselves with education, to pursue a brighter future. I treasure my education. And it’s enraging that political and economic circumstances beyond Spanish students’ control are threatening their access to it.