No book costs. No rent. No fees. No wonder Atlanta students are earning degrees abroad

The high cost of college is causing many students to look at overseas colleges.
Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 12:00 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2022 at 11:05 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - As the cost of going to college has more than tripled, the crippling fear of student loan debt has some metro Atlanta students seeking degrees in other countries.

Rylie Hutchinson was inspired to build, at a young age, by the sites and cities in the video game, The SIMS. Although completely fictional, she credits it for her choice in degree: civil engineering.

“I wanted to do something like that in the real world,” the 22-year-old explained.

This summer, the Atlanta native - who always expected to go to the University of Georgia (UGA) - graduated, but not as a Dawg. Instead, she graduated from University of Aberdeen, an internationally recognized institution in Scotland.

“The Scottish people are known for drinking,” she laughed. “I had to learn very fast.”

But it’s what she learned before her four-year program that changed more than just her address.

“Tuition was about the same as UGA. Mine was about 9,000 pounds. Tuition at UGA is around $11,000. So my tuition was the same, but I never paid for a book.”

No paying for books. No paying her apartment-style dorm. No paying a required on-campus meal plan. No permit fees. No additional student course fees. No healthcare policy costs, she explained of the UK’s universal access to medical services.

“Free healthcare, definitely a plus,” Ellis Hutchinson echoed.

The 19-year-old is in his second year at University of Exeter. Like his sister, the tuition at UGA roughly matches his school in England. But his tuition abroad covers items that aren’t included in the United States.

The Hutchinson siblings are among more than 40,000 American students who sought full degrees abroad since 2010, according to Institute of International Education.

When it comes to studying abroad for U.S. school credit, a new report released this summer shows by 2019, there was a steady rise to more than 300,00 American students enrolled in programs abroad. The numbers dropped by 2020, the same year pandemic restrictions began.

CBS46 examined the in-state tuition for Georgia’s three top universities.

  • While the University of Georgia lists its tuition and fees at $12,080, the cost of residence hall, meal plan and books, brings the total for one year attendance to $27,946.
  • Georgia State University lists its tuition at $8,948 plus fees at $2,128. Factoring in housing, a meal plan, as well as books, the university’s estimate is $31,687 per year.
  • Georgia Tech’s tuition is about $10,258, along with a fee of $1,506. With the cost of books, supplies, housing and meal plan, the total is $28,156.

The cost of college has tripled in the last three decades, said Dr. Jonathan Smith, a professor of economics at Georgia State University. But while Smith argues access to grants and scholarships has also increased, the price of higher learning may only be getting higher.

After the nation’s financial crisis around 2008, less federal funding went to public universities, meaning more expenses are passed onto students.

“For example, in the state of Georgia, in 2020, roughly [the state] spent about 50% less per fulltime student than it did around 2000,” said Smith, resulting in students seeking more loans.

“Black students are a lot more likely than white students to take on debt, even if they have similar financial circumstances at their house,” Smith added.

In fact, according to the Education Data Initiative, they are 76% more likely. Despite the average college debt being about $37,000, people of color make up the majority of borrowers owing more than they borrowed in the first place, and the weight of that debt, Smith said, disproportionally impacts a person’s quality of life, from housing, marriage, and even health.

But the burden of debt is a cycle the Hutchinson’s believe they are breaking.

“Just the experiences: the program quality, the pricing of it, culturally, leaving the country. It provided so much more opportunities than staying in Georgia,” Rylie Hutchison said.

President Joe Biden’s loan forgiveness plan is expected be challenged in the courts. As it stands now, it would eliminate $10,000 debt for those making less than $125,000 a year.

Additionally, for those eligible for the Pell Grant in college, their income-based loan payments would be capped at about 5% percent of their earnings.

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