Education experienced elsewhere 6

I’ve been in the United States for over 20 years and I still haven’t taken the step of taking on American Citizenship. Why? In a nutshell: Education. Not for me (mine served me fine), but for my children. By clinging on to my Dutch citizenship, I keep the door open for my kids to get their advanced education in Europe. Why? Because, even if at par with the US, it comes at a fraction of the price. Tuition at any college/university in the Netherlands is around $2,300 annually.

Is college that much different?

Are colleges and Universities better in the US? Not in general; some surely are (if by prestige only), many are at par and some don’t come close. Even the most prestigious ones can come in third, when it came to designing the SpaceX Hyperloop pod, (the University of Delft beat MIT).

When it comes to cost and ROI (return on investment, and yes, college is an investment of both time and money), the scale easily tips in favor of Europe.

Average annual tuition for college in the US: $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges. These are tuition, we’re not even adding cost of living.

Average annual tuition for college/University in the Netherlands: €2.006 ($2,386.96). Other European countries come in cheaper or come free!

New students, as of 2016 in the Netherlands no longer receive an automatic scholarship (I did, when I went to college in the amount of some $400/month). Now, students have to borrow money, but the conditions are pretty favorable. Here are some statistics:

  • Maximum allowed amount per month one can borrow: €1034.85 ($1,231.42)
  • Average amount borrowed (full course): €13,000.00 ($15,469) for undergrad/€19,000.00 ($22,609) grad
  • Time allowed to pay off loan 35 years
  • Payments never to exceed 4% of annual income (unless you wish to pay off fast)
  • Interest 0% (THAT’S RIGHT NO INTEREST AS OF 2016)

Keep in mind that tuition doesn’t exceed $2,386. These loans mostly cover living expenses while in school. A cunning person might consider enrolling into college at a mere cost of $9,544 to secure an $50,000/35 year/0%  loan. And it’s done; over there they call that “Loan to savings”.


Preparatory Education

I can’t really speak for quality of college education but when it comes to Non-higher education (elementary/high school), I have doubt it’s better over there. A dirty little secret  (one I haven’t let my kids in on yet); a US high school diploma is not good enough to get into a European college. A US high school graduate requires either entry exams (if available) or at least 2 years of US college before being accepted to the first year of college in the Netherlands.

Here’s my beef with US High schools: Every kid be it, short, tall, on the Spectrum, OCD, ADHD, intelligent or not-so-intelligent, proficient at learning or not so proficient at learning, goes through one and the same educational path. I hate to say it but when it comes to intelligence or the ability to learn (two completely different things, btw), we’re not all created equal . Yet, each child from age 4 thru 18 in the US sits in the exact same class room and is taught the exact same curriculum. This means, some are either severely over-served (more than they can handle) and/or some are severely under-served when it comes to knowledge. Sure, some schools have special- education and advanced learning tracks but these are purely at the discretion of the school and dependent on budgets.

I recently explained in a nutshell over at Freedom Is Groovy what preparatory education looks like in the Netherlands and I will elaborate on it here.

In the Netherlands, all kids go through Kindergarten and elementary school just like US kids do but, in 6th grade thing get VERY different from the US school system. In 6th grade every kids takes a test know as the CITO Toets. Think of it as an SAT for your 12 year-old.

The results from this test along with limited teacher’s input will determine what level of education you go to (this is were every US kid automatically flows into one and the same high school).

From this point on a Dutch kid goes to one of the following levels of education:

  • VMBO which stands for Preperatory Middle Level Vocational Education. It lasts for 4 years. It provides vocational training and theoretical education at a, let’s say, easy to understand level. After this track, a student (age 16 if all went well) can flow into either the workforce or can continue his/her education into MBO (additional 2 years of vocational training).
  • HAVO which stands for Higher Administative Continued Education. It lasts for 5 years, after which you can roll into the workforce, continue on to either HBO (undergraduate/bachelor) or flow into VWO
  • VWO which stands for continued scientific Education. It focuses on the sciences lasts for 6 years after which can roll directly into WO (Graduate/masters) or opt for HBO (Bachelors).

As consolidation takes it’s toll everywhere, some of the different tracks are housed in the same physical buildings but as a rule of thumb a student in one track will never share the same class room as one on a different track. These tracks are all taught at different levels.

As I mentioned earlier, intelligence does not equate proficiency of learning. With that in mind even a student that started in VMBO (the lowest level) can make it all the way to HBO/WO but would take several years longer to do so.

I think a chart explains it better than words can (each block represents one school year):



I hope you understand, that given the system I come from, US high school looks a little one-size-fits-all to me. Combined with the fact that every student needs to promote to the next level, I see two things happening: Less proficient students will take up more time from teachers, leaving the more proficient learners under-served and/or lesser proficient students are promoted regardless of progress and subsequently cause more issues upstream (like maybe an incredibly high college drop-out level). I think it’s more of an “and” than “or” situation.

So there you have it. A glimps in education done differently elsewhere. For those Dutch reader, correct me where I screwed up (it has been over 20 years for me) for the local US reader, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Good luck reaching your financial goals.


About Maarten van Lier

Maarten came to this country with a suitcase and a diploma. He created a financial plan and goal to become a millionaire in 10 years. He successfully turned his financial goals into reality, wrote a book about it and now blogs actively in hope of inspiring other to do the same.

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6 thoughts on “Education experienced elsewhere

  • Mrs. Groovy

    Getting tested in the 6th grade and then getting put in the correct “track” so to speak, seems like a wonderful idea. But do the parents sit back without trying to influence the decision? I can’t see that happening here, at least from what I’ve seen and heard of education.

    BTW I contracted a few individuals from Delft in my job. Very smart guys. However, administratively it was quite cumbersome dealing with the university. Lots of review, authorization, paperwork, and time for a simple independent contractor agreement.

    • Maarten van Lier Post author

      The teacher’s input is only limited I think when the result is borderline, The actual score is set centrally (independent from school) so parents are limited in what pressure they can apply. My score at the time was, and my parents opted for the higher track. Since both HAVO and VWO was co-located in the same school, they had what was called a bridge year. If the wrong decision was made, it was easy to flip it. I personally went the scientific track (VWO) and barely made it through. Technically I could have gone straight for WO, but instead opted for HBO. I breezed through HBO and probably would have failed at WO.

      Here again, economics can come into play. I could have gone for my masters and made a starting salary of 5K more but…. By opting for HBO, I finished 2 years earlier and had two annual salaries behind me before my WO peers hit the job market. It takes a long time to catch up for 2 years salary. I’m happy with the track I took.

      Yes, red tape can be a bit of an issue, dealing with the Dutch.

  • Hilke

    The only thing that changed over the years is that the CITO results are less important. It’s your teacher’s/elementary school’s advice that counts most. The CITO results nowadays come in after the registration period of the ‘middelbare’, as we call all these levels of educatief together. Only when your CITO results are better than the initial advice, you can apply for a school of a higher level.
    I must say: it served me well, too!

    • Maarten van Lier Post author

      interesting. Given the helicopter-parent phenomenon (which if not there yet, will get there eventually), that will put a lot of pressure on the teacher, fighting off parents that want too much for their kids. Thanks for that feedback

  • Mr. Groovy

    THANK YOU, Maarten! Not everyone is college material. Sorry. If you can’t handle calculus or Faust, stay clear of college. It doesn’t make any sense to spend a lot of time and money on something that will only marginally improve cognitive abilities. Nothing wrong with trade and technical school. Time to go a little Dutch over here. Your brethren are very wise.

    • Maarten van Lier Post author

      I agree that college isn’t right for everyone. However, given the inability to get many types of jobs without a college degree (even those that don’re really require a college degree), I feel the cards are stacked against many.