I enrolled in the University of Paris at the age of 23, having drifted up to France after a year in Africa traveling and working—leaving, like generations of pale-skinned expats before me, with more money than I arrived with. At the Sorbonne I spent a year studying philosophy. Lodging and meals were subsidized; tuition ran about $35.
After a couple of years in the States working as a reporter I was admitted to the London School of Economics, and five years later left with a Ph.D. British tuition was low, and the generous rules of the day required me to pay for only two of the years I spent there, so that Ph.D. cost me about $600.
Of course there were other costs. In France I took in typing and translations, and fried eggs, washed dishes, and mopped floors. In England my wife kept us alive by teaching school, while I taught undergraduates.
But still and all, the world was a permissive one, and I got six years of graduate study and two very respectable degrees for well under $1,000 in tuition.
That was then. Now the LSE costs $25,000 a year, and I’m in an ironic position. I run one of the country’s premier journalism graduate schools, which is embedded in a great, nominally public university, the University of California, Berkeley. And because public funding has not kept up with rising costs, we’re seeking a sizable increase in tuition—one that would be especially burdensome to students from abroad, just as I was.
Foreign students are already charged top dollar—some $29,000 for each of the two years the master’s of journalism degree requires. That’s more than U.S. students pay, because foreigners are barred, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, from benefiting from the lower in-state tuition that students from elsewhere in the United States pay after they establish residency in California in their first year.
It’d be nice to think we could find some financial offsets for students from abroad, but the options are limited. In fact, it wouldn’t be fair to U.S. students, who have plenty of problems of their own, to devise support schemes that would give foreign students a privileged slice of the financial aid pie.
I feel for them, especially because I know how much I benefited from study abroad, but the hard fact is that foreign students don’t have much of a constituency here. They’re thought either to be financially privileged, or to skew heavily toward technology and engineering, which means the credentials they earn are assumed to position them for careers so lucrative that whatever they cost is reasonable.
But isn’t there a case to make that this country would benefit by making it easier for any but the most vocationally-minded foreign students to study here?
Our imperial predecessors thought so. Britain and France allowed youth from abroad to experience their cultures and savor their educational eminence. The expectation was they would either remain and contribute talent to their adopted homes or return to their countries of origin with respect and affection for the places where they were educated.
That was the legacy of cultural policy that enabled me to fluke into my cut-rate education. So what did Britain and France get in return? Was it a good investment?
I didn’t turn out to be one of the innumerable foreign heads of state educated at those same European schools, but I did end up spending 40-some years in the U.S. media and higher ed as a fan of both countries. Not a slavish fan, I hope, but I did write, edit, and teach out of a set of experiences tilted toward them with sympathy and a measure of understanding. Considering the sky-high cost and scant effectiveness of modern PR, the subsidy I got was probably a decent investment.
To be sure, not all of my foreign students leave with the same affection for this country. But there’s more to consider: The things they learn. Journalism offers an especially strong argument for reaching foreign students, because U.S. programs expose them to news practices that often are sharply different from the journalism practiced in their homelands. Many of them come from countries whose practices are rooted in traditions either of authoritarian control over news or single-minded partisanship and polemic.
Training the world’s rising generation of journalists in practices that emphasize accuracy, service, and fair-mindedness has, I think, incalculable value. Not that we always do it right in this country, but what we teach is an approach to making sense of the world that has the potential to move the media toward a globalization of discourse, with news people sharing a reverence for facts, a commitment to public service, and an insistence that governing institutions be held accountable.
Those are lessons that are worth spreading as widely as possible. It’s a kind of globalization that goes well beyond tariff reform to the fundamental understandings that we have of the world we share.
That seems like a worthwhile investment, one of many that this country, unfortunately, seems unwilling to consider.