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How Differences in Cultural Values in Poland and the United States Influence University Costs

How Differences in Cultural Values in Poland and the United States Influence University Costs

University is an important part of many modern cultures in Europe, North America, and other parts of the world. It is a country’s way of creating skilled workers to further develop the country. However, education an entire workforce can be very expensive. In countries where entirely different cultures exist, there will naturally be very different ways of covering this cost. Two of these countries include Poland, where public education is free, and the United States, where even public education can cost tens of thousands of dollars. In Poland and the United States, opposing cultural values concerning multiple aspects of life result in higher education costs in the United States, and low education costs in Poland.

University is one of the primary ways of creating new employees for a country, and a huge part of a people’s lives all around the world, making it a very important aspect of a country which can show much about it’s culture. The 20-29 age group in Poland has a 30.62% enrollment rate in college, while the same age group in the United States has a 27.27% enrollment rate (OECD). These are both huge portions of the population, showing that Poland and the United States are both countries where university is a huge part of the culture. Despite relatively close enrollment rates, these countries have drastically different methods to cover the cost of this education for their populations, resulting in drastically different costs. According to Money, “the cost of a degree from a public school [in the United States] for in-state students starting this year will run between $70,000 and $130,000” and “At private colleges [also in the United States] the bills will typically run between $120,000 and $250,000” (Clark). This is far from the cost of education in Poland. The article “How students 'stay the course': Retention practices in higher education” claims that in Poland, “those who achieve high final examination scores are guaranteed admission to tuition-free full-time studies at public universities” (Kurantowicz and Nizinska). In addition, even when students in Poland do need to pay for university, “The tuition fees are rather low. The average annual fee paid at ISCED 5A non ‐ public institutions in academic year 2004/2005 equalled 2,710 USD (PPP) – a similar amount to the Czech Republic” (Herbst and Rok 8).

Using these rates, the private cost of education in the United States at the lowest end of the range is about 4328% higher than the average cost of private education in Poland. For a public institution, this percentage is even higher. In fact, since a student in Poland is guaranteed free public education with good test scores, the percent difference is infinite for those have the scores to get into a public institution. Based on OECD data, the 2012 average net income in Poland was about $15899, while the 2012 average net income in the United States was about $44807 (OECD). This amount was found by taking the gross income and subtracting the compulsory deductions. From these statistics, it can be seen that the average net income in Poland in 2012 was about 182% lower than the average net income in the United States. When adjusted for the huge difference in education costs, this wage is not very much lower than the wage in the United States. Of course, this may not apply to the general living cost in both countries, however, that is outside the scope of this research. This refutes the idea that education cost is Poland is only lower because the wages are lower. The statistics show that even adjusted for earnings in both countries, education in Poland is significantly less expensive. The only way through which it would be possible for the Polish government to provide public education for free is, of course, through taxes. This raises the question of which cultural values caused these differences in the two systems; the Polish system, where education is highly subsidized by taxes, and the American system, where student debt is an expected part of life.

In the United States there is absolutely no guarantee of a free university, unlike in Poland, where it is guaranteed to anyone with good test scores. In fact, being independent and paying for one’s own university education is such an ingrained part of the culture, that even giving students small amounts of help is considered a huge deal. Anthony Poore and Colleen Quint claim that in the American state of Connecticut,

Gov. Dannel Malloy recently established the CHET Baby Scholars Fund, which will deposit $100 into a Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET) account for children born or adopted on or after Jan. 1, 2014. A second deposit of $150 will be made if family and friends add at least $150 to the child’s enrolled CHET account within four years,

and that in the state of Rhode Island

State Treasurer Gina Raimondo has actively pursued a broad universal CSA agenda and plans to launch the first phase of Rhode Island’s CSA Initiative Jan. 1, 2015. Every baby born or adopted as a Rhode Island resident on or after July 1, 2010 will be eligible to receive a one-time $100 contribution to a CollegeBound Baby fund account.

Compared to the large subsidies in Poland and other European countries, which often pay for a student’s entire public university, these are incredibly small governmental contributions, yet they were worthy of an entire journal article (Poore and Quint). They are especially small contributions when considering the cost of a public education in the United States, “between $70,000 and $130,000” for an in state student (Clark). The “in state” student part is extremely important to note. The states of Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, New York, and New Jersey offer discounts to out of state students. However, for the other 45 states tuition can be drastically more expensive for an out of state student than it normally would be. This may not seems like a problem at first; someone can just study in their own state. However, this could be a huge problem for students from from small and low population states, like Connecticut or Rhode Island. Students from these states may want to study in a larger or more populous state with more institutions to choose from, however, they may end up paying significantly more than the cost for an in state student. One may wonder, why the United States does not institute a similar system to Poland and other European Countries, where every good student is guaranteed a free university, and no one is denied a chance to have a good career just because their parents were poor. One seemingly obvious answer to this question, is that the United States is a richer country than Poland, and people can simply afford to their education, and to pay off the debt, and they they just do not need any government assistance. This claim, is, however, not true. First, of all, many countries in the north and west of Europe provide free public education, just as Poland does. In fact, “Every Danish student receives about $900 (5,839 Danish krones) per month” from the government (Noack). They do not only have free university, but they get paid while going there. In addition, it is not true that in the United States, paying for university is not a problem at all. This can be seen in the article “You’ll Never Guess College Students’ Biggest Regret”. The article says that “According to a study conducted by Citizens Financial Group, 77% of former college students age 40 and younger regret not doing a better job of planning how to manage their student loan debt” (White). The article goes on to say that

Each indebted borrower owes nearly $30,000 upon graduation, and many of them are struggling. Citizen’s survey finds that current students carry roughly $25,000 of student debt, while their parents carry an average of $22,000.

Nearly a quarter of former students in Citizen’s survey say they can’t stay current on their debt payments, and almost two-thirds say they’re uncomfortable with their debt load. Almost half say they would have reconsidered going to college entirely if they knew how burdensome their debts would be years or even decades later (White).

This huge debt problem can further be seen by how drastically student’s opinions change from before they start college, to after they finish college:

The heavy debt burden has some wondering if it’s even worth it. While almost 90% of current students think taking out loans to pay for school will be worth the investment, only about two-thirds of former students think so. And while nearly three-quarters of current students think college is necessary no matter what the cost, only 59% of former students feel the same way.

Clearly, student debt is an extreme problem in the United States. At this point, one may be wondering why America does not implement a system where university is subsidized by taxes to the point that a student is good, then that student will be guaranteed a free university, at least in a public university. The answer to this, is that traditional American cultural values would not allow for such a system to be implemented in the United States.

The United States has very different cultural values when compared to countries with free public education, like Poland. These values are described by Professor Gary Weaver, in “American cultural values”. In the United States, there is a higher emphasis on the individual than in Europe, “Status is earned in the United States based upon what an individual does” (6). For this reason, providing free university to students in the United States, payed for by taxpayers, may be interpreted as other people helping students earn their status, rather than the students figuring out their own way to raise money for education, and gaining their status on their own. Weaver further elaborates by saying that “Success in the U.S. is the sweetest if it is individual success and based upon hard work and action” (6). If students are left on their own to pay for college debt, it may be seen by American society as that student working to gain their success “upon hard work and action”, rather than the way it works in a country with free public education, like Poland, where it is more acceptable for members of society to work together and help each other gain success. The emphasis is less on the individual, and more on what people can accomplish if they work together. American society has a strong emphasis on “Self Reliance and Independence”, or as Weaver puts it another way, “Frontier or Pioneer Values” (7). He states that in the United States,

Almost every politician wants a picture of himself or herself wearing a cowboy hat. Why? Because when Americans think of a cowboy, they picture a lone individual sitting on a horse out on the prairie. Cowboys never traveled in groups. They were men of action, self-reliant and independent individualists who survived without any help from anyone else.

As a result, one of the worst insults in America is to suggest that someone depends upon or relies upon others. When we help others, it is often done indirectly or circuitously through anonymous charities, but seldom directly because it would offend the receivers.

This is a very extreme contrast to the way society works in Poland. In Poland, students gladly recieve a free public education. Not because they are leeches, but because they know that once they are done with their education, they will be able be able to use it to contribute to society as a whole, and to support their future spouses, future children, and older relatives. In addition, once these students grow up, they will willingly pay the same taxes which once helped them get a free education, since educating future members of society is beneficial to society as a whole. In addition, the United States does not have as strong of family values as Poland. Weaver writes:

The typical family throughout American history has been the nuclear family which included the husband, wife and children, but not the grandparents, aunts uncles or other relatives. This small family was highly mobile. Even today, the average American moves fourteen times in his or her lifetime, primarily to take advantage of economic opportunities elsewhere in the country. At the age of eighteen or nineteen, if a child has finished higher school, many parents expect their children to leave home to go to the university or begin a career. They should not be economically dependent upon their hardworking parents (7).

This reinforces the idea of independence in American. It would be hard for people in America to accept the idea of paying taxes so that the next generation can have a free education. As states in the quote, children in America are expected to move out fairly early compared to many other countries, and they are expected to deal with their economic problems by themselves. If this is the way in which Americans see parental dependence, then it would be even hard for Americans to accept the idea that they are paying taxes for students who are not even part of their own family, let alone their own children. Another American value which prevents them from instituting free public university is the value for small government. Weaver states that

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The dominant political philosophy is this country is what many Europeans call “liberalism,” although in the U.S. it is often considered a form of “conservatism.” It is the belief that less government is better government and government ought not interfere in the lives of the individual. This is a logical extension of Calvinism (8).

It is easy to see why this belief would be a huge obstacle to providing the population with free education. Such higher government assistance would be perceived by many Americans as going against one of the main tenets of American society, ingrained in the constitution of the country: the idea of having a small government which does not interfere with society. Of course, to create free public education, the government would not even need to “interfere” with a person’s life. There would be higher taxes, though there could also be a benefit to the economy. However, to a traditional American, these reasons are not enough. Free education may be seen as a threat to the system which may allow for even more changes, it could be seen an unnecessary growth of the government, and it could even be thought of as governmental control of society. He further goes on to state that “Even education is mostly a local, rather than federal, matter” (8). This would mean that a central system of public universities would be very hard to implement in the United States.

These multiple values come together to continue the current American system of paying for university. To summarize the values, Americans put higher emphasis on the individual, they value self-reliance and independence, have small and mobile families, and have a fear of government control. When all of these values are put together, it is not hard to see why many Americans would be fiercely opposed to the idea of widely available free university education. Although it could possibly be beneficial to the American economy, it would be seen as an attack on America’s long standing cultural values. It would be a huge change to make for a society used where the individual is even more important than society itself, and any kind of central authority is thought of as a threat. The American education system is a prime example of how seemingly simple and insignificant values which often go unnoticed in daily life can have a strong influence on how a society functions as a whole. For the United States to adopt a similar education system to Poland, Denmark, Germany, or other European countries, where everyone knows that with good grades, they will also be able to get a college degree, much more than just political change would be necessary in the United States. It would be a process of many years, which may not come any time soon, if ever. Americans would need to give up their traditional cultural values which they grew up with and they learned from their parents. Telling people to give up such ingrained cultural values would be a major request. Education costs do not at first seem like something that is influenced by culture. However, this research proves that culture may possibly be the main factor which influences how the education system of a country is run, and, specifically, how the tuition is paid. If simple cultural values had such a major influence on the American education system and the costs involved with it, this would mean that other cultures will have extremely different education systems, and with this, extremely different payment methods. Upon further examination of such a culture, one will be able to see that there are key differences between the cultural values of that culture, and American culture. Out of very many cultures, one example of such a culture, with a different education system and education costs, is, of course, Polish culture, with cultural values which influence the education payment system where all good students are guaranteed a free public education.

Polish values are very different from American values. Rather than an individualist society like the United States, Polish society places a very strong emphasis on the family. The book Values in the Polish Cultural Tradition states that

These strong and vivid family bonds, broader than just a circle of parents and children, make the so-called nuclear family model unpopular in Poland. Much more often than in Western countries the so-called broader family pattern operates in its two basic forms: a) as a multigenerational family living under the same roof, where adult family members have a common or separate households; and b) as a multigenerational family in which adult children live separately, but in the vicinity, and remain in constant touch, visiting and helping one another in need, both spiritually and materially. Sociological studies conducted in cities, both in old and new neighborhoods, show that more than half the families with grandparents are multigenerational bound in various degrees by common households or at least by common habitation. Certainly this is caused partially by housing problems, but strong family bonds also matter a lot in this context Adult generations, especially the younger, prefer separate over common living space, but in the vicinity, preferably in the same building or block or no farther than within a ten or twenty minutes walk, so that it is possible to visit and help one another without great difficulties (Dyczewski 58)

This is clearly a very strong contrast from America’s “small” and “highly mobile” families where “At the age of eighteen or nineteen, if a child has finished higher school, many parents expect their children to leave home to go to the university or begin a career” and it is believe that young adults “should not be economically dependent upon their hardworking parents” (Weaver 7). Clearly, in Poland, the family is valued much more than the individual, opposite of America. For this reason, it is very acceptable for taxpayers to pay for the younger generation’s education. This does not mean that taking from parents and doing nothing in exchange is acceptable in Poland. Rather, in Polish society, there is a cycle which does not exist in mainstream American culture. In Poland, older relatives are expected to provide for their children and insure that the children will be successful, while younger relatives are expected to take care of, and sometimes even live with older relatives. Such a society with higher emphasis on family, sharing, and working together is the same kind of society which would find it normal to pay taxes so that the younger generation can become educated and learn to contribute to society, while a more individualistic society would expect the young generation to figure their lives out for themselves. In addition, Polish society values the greater good over personal success. The book also states that in Polish society,

It is their conviction, view, and feeling that the good, goals, needs, and interest of individuals has always in the past, is now, and will in the future be achieved best by means of a co-responsible realization of the common good, that is, the good of all persons united in common action. In this sense, communality as a desired model of life appears in the social consciousness as a value (Dyczewski 61).

In Poland, paying taxes for education is something that the people can consider helping the greater good. The people recognize that if the more young people they educate, the more skilled workers there will be. In the United States, however, it may not matter to people as much if something is beneficial to the greater good. This is because individual accomplishment is so valued in America, that people might rather be left to accomplish something on their own than help someone else accomplish something which will only later come back to benefit them, which is what they would be doing by paying taxes for the education of others.

Very much is revealed by an examination of just small portions of American and Polish cultures. The values examined were only a few from entire two entire cultures, with very many different aspects. From this examination, first of all, can be seen the huge differences between Polish and American cultures. These are two modern cultures which are both part of a seemingly common civilization, yet, upon closer examination of them, it can be seen how extremely different they really are in terms of mentality. Also, what can be seen, is how just a few very different values can have a huge difference in which the societies conduct themselves, in this case, in the field of education. A few seemingly insignificant, but very different values created two extremely different education systems which affect the entire lives of the people living in both countries.

By Jacob Labudda

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Dyczewski, Leon. Values in the Tradition of the Polish Culture. Washington, D.C.: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2002. Print.

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