Determining the value of a college degree requires some new math: currency conversion.
The appeal of not just studying abroad, but getting a degree abroad, seems particularly attractive amid rising U.S. college costs.
The average cost to attend a private four-year college in the U.S. is $42,419 for the 2014-15 academic year, according to The College Board. That's up 60 percent from 10 years ago. Rates for a public four-year college average $18,943, a 78 percent increase over the same period.
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In contrast, many foreign universities are downright cheap.
Earlier this fall, Lower Saxony became the last state in Germany to scrap public university tuition. Germans—and international students—can now study for free. A semester's tuition at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (#26 on U.S. News & World Report's ranking of best global universities) works out to a little more than $600 at current exchange rates; at China's Peking University (#39), annual tuition for international undergraduate students is $4,236.
Even at University of Cambridge, where annual tuition and fees currently start at about $32,000 for international students, depending on the course of study, there's a price advantage. U.K. undergraduate programs typically span three years rather than the four in U.S. programs.
"Especially since the recession in '08, people are shorter on money and there needs to be more value in the education parents and students are pursuing," said Craig Meister, president of Tactical College Consulting, which has offices in Maryland and in Athens, Greece. "For the right-fit kid, going abroad can make a lot of sense."
Those kinds of price breaks can help grad students reduce, or even avoid, the average U.S. student loan burden, which is around $30,000.
"I didn't have any student loans, and I don't have any college debt, which has put me in a really great financial situation," said Mia Gewertz, a 2005 graduate of McGill University in Montreal. During her senior year, tuition was $11,085 Canadian—or $8,446 U.S., given favorable exchange rates at the time.