Here's how much it costs to go to college in the US compared to other countries

Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

America might be known as the "land of the free," but attending college in the U.S. is anything but.

According to the College Board, the average cost of one year at a public university for an in-state student is $20,090. That increases to $34,220 if you hail from out of state. And in order to afford a college diploma, many American students rely on loans. Today, over 44 million Americans hold a total of $1.4 trillion in student debt.

University of Copenhagen
MyLoupe | Getty Images


By contrast, in countries like Germany and Sweden, students can attend university free of charge. Denmark takes college affordability to an entirely new level. Danish students receive about $900 (5,839 DKK) per month through a program called Statens Uddannelsesstøtte ("state education") to help cover living expenses while they are getting their college degree.

Advocates for free college education in the U.S. have implemented programs similar to those currently used in Denmark.

University of Tokyo
mizoula | Getty Images


The University of Tokyo tops the US News and World Report list of the best universities in Asia. It costs ¥535,800 (roughly $4,735) for an undergraduate to attend the University of Tokyo for one year.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Japanese Government spends $8,748 per student across all schools and universities every year.

Japan's investment has resulted in a highly educated population: The OECD reports that the country has the second highest level of adult education in the world, with nearly 50 percent of citizens completing a tertiary level education.

Architecture department at the University of São Paulo.
Frédéric Soltan | Getty Images


Three of the five top colleges in South America are in Brazil, a country with free public college. The OECD reports that the Brazilian government allocates nearly 20 percent of its budget to education. Over 6 percent of Brazil's GDP goes towards education.

However, many of the country's well-funded, prestigious and free universities are highly selective and serve disproportionately wealthy white communities. Since it's difficult for students who did not attend expensive private prep schools to gain admission to the best public universities, many students attend for-profit colleges.

University of Cape Town
Jessica A. Deibert | Getty Images

South Africa

South African Colleges like the University of Cape Town and the University of Witwatersrand are widely celebrated as the best schools in Africa.

The University of Cape Town uses a fee structure in which students pay tuition fees for every course they take. These tuition fees vary from course to course.

The University of the Witwatersrand (known as Wits), is one of South Africa's most expensive universities. The Guardian reports that tuition fees at Wits are as high as 60,000 Rands (roughly $4,509) a year depending on the field of study.

South African students have long advocated more affordable education. In 2015, when Wits suggested a 10.5 percent fee increase, students protested. Similar protests continue today.

Adam Habib, the President of Witwatersrand, argues that the anger expressed by South African students is likely to appear across the globe. He told The Atlantic, "South Africa is not unique. It's just the most acute manifestation of a global conflict that's emerging."

Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook

Don't miss: This is the age most Americans pay off their student loans

Beyonce wants to pay for your college — here's why
Beyonce wants to pay for your college — here's why
Related Video
Beyonce wants to pay for your college — here's why
Beyonce wants to pay for your college — here's why