Author: Alfred Acquah
Site of publication: Current Issues in Comparative Education (CICE)
Type of publication: Comparative study
Date of publication: Winter 2021
The escalating cost of higher education in recent years has been felt by many countries around the world and has attracted a lot of attention, with some studies attributing the high cost to inadequate public funding, growing pressure on public funding, and in some cases, economic recession.
According to the World Bank, higher education refers to all post-secondary education, including private and public universities, colleges, technical and vocational institutions. Also, higher education is seen as an instrument and key in providing solutions to intricate problems. It is also perceived as an economic engine that frees people from poverty by providing them with high-paying jobs.
Higher education, which used to be a service for the elite, is now a service for the mass due to higher demand by all classes of people. In recent times, higher education has seen a massive expansion. For example, the worldwide Gross Tertiary Enrollment Ratio (GTER) increased to 32 % in 2012 compared to 10% in 1972.
There are about 200 million students enrolled in higher education in the world compared to 89 million in 1998.
As enrollment increases in higher education, the cost of attendance also increases. The increase in enrollment and high cost of higher education is seen as a result of the increased emphases on knowledge-based economy and neoliberal practices, the former measuring how knowledge or information contribute to the economy and the latter prioritizing competition, free market, and government budget cut.
Knowledge-based economy has been described as one of the “three powerful economic narratives” in the past 30 to 40 years and has influenced educational reforms in public discourse.
Through knowledge-based economy, education is now considered an economic industry that is evaluated based on its contributions to the economy. Thus, educational services are increasingly being privatized, open to global competition, and managed by non-academic personnel. Although the emphasis on knowledge-based economy has contributed to increased enrollment in higher education, it has also positioned education in a neoliberal perspective accounting for the high cost of higher education. Besides, the limited access to higher education, funding, and the complications that accompany the securing of student loans deny students from low socioeconomic backgrounds from enrolling in higher education.
According to the United Nations, the U.S. is the third most populous nation in the world with a population of 329,064,917 in 2019, while Ghana has a population of 28,833,629 and serves as the forty-eighth most populous nation in the world. In 2019, there were about 19.73 million and 496,148 students enrolled in U.S. and Ghana higher education, respectively. According to a statistical report released by the National Accreditation Board, Ghana, there are about 230 institutions of higher education in Ghana. In comparison, the USA has about 4,360 (as of 2016/2017) degree-granting institutions of higher education (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES]). Enrollment into higher education in both countries is optional and not compulsory as compared to basic education.
Over the years, the cost of higher education in Ghana and the U.S., and other countries have risen due to a reduction in federal government funding.
According to the World Bank, higher education refers to all post-secondary education, including private and public universities, colleges, technical and vocational institutions. Also, higher education is seen as an instrument and key in providing solutions to intricate problems. It is also perceived as an economic engine that frees people from poverty by providing them with high-paying jobs
This reduction in funds, as a result, puts more higher education cost burden on students and parents, contributing to an increase in student loans. On average, 68% of students in the U.S. higher education graduate with about $30,000 in loans. According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, the annual average cost of higher education in the U.S. was $24,300 for public four-year institutions and $50,300 for private four-year institutions for the 2017/2018 academic year. This applied to students who lived on campus. Students who lived with the family spent $14,400 and $39,900 in public and private schools, respectively. Those who lived offcampus without family spent $24,200 and $50,200 in public and private schools, respectively.
According to Enterversity, a free university search engine for students in Africa, the average cost of higher education in Ghana for public institutions is between GH¢1400 ($243.45) to GH¢2100 (365.17). The cost of higher education in private institutions is between GH¢5,000 ($869.46) to GH¢9,000 ($1,565.03). This amount is a little more expensive for the average Ghanaian. In order for students to become aware of these increments and the cost of higher education, it is vital that students are as well exposed to the different sources of funding available to them. Oseni et al. propose that one of the important aspects of education finance is the source of funding available to students. They argue that sources of funding should be explicitly stated in order to be able to synthesize with other sources of funding.
Although Ghana was colonized by the British, the U.S. has a greater educational transfer role, a core ground for comparative education research, on Ghana. For example, an American concept of education, the Hampton-Tuskegee model of industrial education, was first borrowed by the Achimota College (now Achimota School) situated in Accra, Ghana, before it spread to other British colonies in Africa. During the 1920s, Phelps-Stokes Fund, a New York-based philanthropic agency, saw the spreading of the American education model (industrial education), which was mainly designed for African Americans in the Southern U.S., to the African continent. Ghana, then Gold Coast, became the first country to adjust to the education model of the U.S.
Enrollment and Expenditure on Higher Education in Ghana and the U.S.
In Ghana, investment in education as a percentage of GDP was 6-8% between 2011 and 2015, representing 22-27% of the Government’s annual expenditure. In recent years, this has declined to 3.9% of the GDP in 2018 for education in general and 1.2% in tertiary education in 2013, as last recorded by the World Bank. Also, 19.1% of the government budget for education is apportioned to higher education. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute of Statistics, Ghana had a total higher education enrollment of 15.7% in 2018, compared to 11.8% in 2011, with the former representing about 2,879,063 of the population aged 19 to 23. The total enrollment of female students increased from 8.9% in 2011 to 13.6% in 2018. On the other hand, enrollment for males increased from 14.5% in 2011 to 17.7% in 2018.
The total gross enrollment ratio in higher education in the U.S. was 88.3% in 2018, with 102.4% and 74.9% gross enrollment for females and males, respectively. In the U.S., the overall college enrollment rate for young adults (18 to 24 years old) increased from 35 percent in the year 2000 to 40 percent in 2017. Enrollment for females increased from 38% in 2000 to 44% in 2018, while men’s enrollment rose from 33% in 2000 to 38% in 2018. Higher education outcomes vary from country to country depending on the investment made towards education. This can be measured in the number of students who complete higher education. Also, there is a higher percentage of women who have completed at least some college, according to the 2015 census. 60% of women had some college or more education as compared to 58 % of men. Also, 32 % of men and 33% of women had completed at least a bachelor’s degree. There were 12% of both men and women who had completed an advanced degree.
Furthermore, the U.S. federal government invests about $149 billion in higher education, representing 3.6% of the federal government’s expenditure. The amount increases to $1.068 trillion with funding from non-federal funding agencies. In 2016, the total government and private expenditure on all institutions was 6% as a percentage of the GDP and 2.5% on higher education. The U.S. government expenditure was 4.1% and 0.9% on all institutions and higher education, respectively. In other sectors like defense, health, and government pensions, the federal spend 5%, 8%, and 7% of the GDP, respectively.
Sources of Higher Education Funding in Ghana and the U.S.
Higher education in Ghana used to be free, just like basic education. However, in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the government could not increase and continue funds for supporting higher educational institutions due to low expenditure for higher education, and as a result, institutions of higher education had no choice but to charge high tuition fees. This was influenced by donor-backed policies and the World Bank’s initiative of supplementing public income with income by shifting higher education costs from the government to students, parents, and people who purchase higher education services. They also emphasized high spending for primary and high school education to create high demand for higher education. Since then, the government’s aid for supporting higher education now comes in the form of government grants that are often shown in the national budget for developing higher education institutions (tertiary education). This fund is not the kind of aid that is disbursed to a student to complete or pay for tuition but is distributed to the various public institutions of higher education by the government through the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) as opposed to the U.S. Pell grant that contributes directly in paying students tuition fees. Other sources of funds for higher education institutions emanate from local authorities, internally generated funds by the institutions, tuition, and international organizations such as the World Bank.
The GETFund is an initiative enacted by the Ghanaian government to support all levels of education in the country. The fund was established by law in the year 2000 through the nation’s parliament. From the GETFund’s online homepage, the trust fund is mandated to providing “funding to supplement government effort for the provision of educational infrastructure and facilities within the public sector from the pre-tertiary to the tertiary level”.
Another source of government aid to students in higher educations in Ghana is the Students Loan Trust Fund (SLTF). The SLTF is a source of government funding in the form of loans for students in an accredited institution of higher education in Ghana. This trust fund was established in December 2005 under Act 820 of Ghana’s parliament to support higher education institutions and students who are needy (Atuahene, 2008; Students Loan Trust Fund, 2020. The main sources of funds for the trust include but are not limited to; money from the GETFund, voluntary contributions and contributions from the private, and loans from the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT). To qualify for SLTF, the applicant must first be a Ghanaian citizen and in need who is admitted to a nationally accredited institution of higher education for an academic program that is accredited by the National Accreditation Board. Besides, the student applicant must have a guarantor in order to be considered.
In addition to this, there are other forms of financial aids offered by the various higher education institutions in Ghana. An example is the Students Financial Aid offered by the University of Ghana as a measure to combat the increasing financial needs of their student applicants. This fund is awarded to brilliant but needy students. The fund pays for their academic fees and other expenses but contingent on the availability of funds. This could be in the form of a full or partial scholarship, on-campus work-study for students
The United States
In the U.S., federal student financial aid programs aim to assist students with or without low socioeconomic background. The federal student aid is categorized into three main types: (1) the federal aid, which consists of PELL grant, Stafford Loans, and Direct Plus Loan; (2) State Aid (merit and need-based scholarships); and (3) Institutional Aid. Firstly, the PELL grant, which is categorized under federal aid, is a subsidy provided by the federal government to students in need to pay for college. This aid is given mostly to undergraduate students but also some graduate students in certain post-baccalaureate programs. Students receive this aid by applying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and demonstrating need. Unlike loans, students who receive PELL grants do not have to repay. According to Federal Students Aid, the maximum PELL grant award for the 2020/2021 academic year is $6,345. In order for students to be eligible for this kind of aid, they need to be enrolled in a degree or certificate program at an accredited higher education institution to receive the aid. In addition to the aforementioned eligibility requirement, the students have to demonstrate financial need, maintain satisfactory academic progress (mostly a GPA of 3.0 or higher), and be registered with the selective service (Federal Students Aid, n.d.).
In Ghana, investment in education as a percentage of GDP was 6-8% between 2011 and 2015, representing 22-27% of the Government’s annual expenditure. In recent years, this has declined to 3.9% of the GDP in 2018 for education in general and 1.2% in tertiary education in 2013, as last recorded by the World Bank
According to Ghana’s 1992 constitution, access to education at all levels in Ghana is supposed to be free to all irrespective of financial background, but this is not the case due to inadequate government funds to support higher education. Given that there is limited financial aid, especially for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds who may not have a personal guarantor to secure a loan from the SLTF, they would have to pay from pocket or forget about enrolling in higher education. The limited access to higher education and the complications of securing a student loan gives students with high socioeconomic background more access to higher education than those with low socioeconomic background.
Also, the government is more committed to ensuring free secondary education for all and, as a result, allocates more funds to the secondary education sector. Similarly, education in the U.S. is intended to be accessible to all. However, not all students can enroll or graduate due to increased tuition, a decrease in government funding for schools, and the continuing financial barriers that limit the low-income family’s access to higher education compared to their high-income family counterparts.
The goals for higher education emphasize accountability and competition in both countries. A careful analysis of the established goals of higher education in Ghana and the U.S. seem to be geared towards competing in the global education sphere. It also reveals the demand for standardization and accountability across all higher education institutions. As a developing country, Ghana’s goal relative to education is focused on establishing a solid foundation for improving the quality of education, which seems like an indisputable vision for every developing country. However, there seem to be evidence of using neoliberal practices such as standardizing disciplines and creating competition among schools. Also, the goal of achieving a demand-driven form of higher education reveals the influence of knowledge-based economy. As a developed country and a super-power, the U.S. obviously has achieved a greater foundation and now seeks excellence in higher education through accountability. That is, the higher education goals in both countries seem to be influenced by neoliberalism, which prioritizes competition and commodifies higher education institutions. Performance-based funding, a product of neoliberalism, has been enacted to enforce standardization, accountability, and competition among schools in the U.S. and lately in Ghana.
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