Will U.S. Education Lead to Occupy New Delhi Protest?

Editor’s Note: This is the third in our series of articles on American Education vs. Indian Education. The previous two articles are:

To a large extent, the American College System emphasizes basic liberal arts education as its core curriculum. It offers tremendous flexibility in programs and courses to fit the interests of students. It is very expensive. Today, the American College System produces large numbers of graduates who find themselves uneducated for the jobs that are available, jobs that demand training in hard sciences. It also leaves a huge debt overhang on the graduates it produces.

The Indian College System is generally based on an opposite model. It emphasizes education that is practical and job-oriented. It persuades good students to join programs in Engineering, Medicine, Commerce (Business) and Law. The Arts programs are left at the bottom of the educational ladder. The education system is regimented and offers little flexibility. But the costs are minimal compared to an American college. So it does not leave a debt overhang on its graduates. 

But many Indian students find this practical system mentally claustrophobic and undesirable. These students are increasingly entering the American College System in search of quality, an open system and flexibility.  This is the story told by a New York Times article:

Squeezed out of India, students turn to U.S.

The article begins with the story of Moulshri Mohan. Ms. Mohan, a bright high school student, was rejected by the top colleges in New Delhi. But she was accepted by Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Wesleyan, Barnard, the University of Virginia, Dartmouth and Smith. In fact, Dartmouth offered her a scholarship of $20,000. So she will join Dartmouth. The article also features Ms. Sachdeva who was not accepted by a top Delhi college because her score was only 94.5%, not high enough for that college. She is now applying to several American Universities.

This we understand because the scale of the Indian college system is small and the number of prospective students is huge. We understand their unhappiness with the regimented education system in India. We also understand their desire to study liberal arts in a quality American school rather than at a lower quality Indian College that doesn’t really respect liberal arts programs. 

But frankly, we do not understand the cost-benefit analysis. As the article points out, the annual costs at Dartmouth are $41,736 a year while the costs at Delhi colleges are between $150 to $500 a year. Perhaps the students don’t care because, unlike in America, the parents pick up the education tab.

The article also writes about the sheer joy of American colleges about this new student pool that provides “a much needed boon to American Universities“. The article states “Faced with shrinking returns from endowment funds, a decline in the number of high school graduates in the United States and growing economic hardship among American families, they have stepped up their efforts to woo Indian students thousands of miles away.”

young Indian students, in our experience, revel in the freedom and
excellence of the American College System.The article captures the sheer joy of these students and their parents when they get accepted to Dartmouth, Berkeley and other American schools. 

A great win-win story we thought. And then we wondered about what these Indian students might face when they graduate.

  • Will they find jobs with their liberal arts degrees in today’s America?
  • If they are not American Citizens or American Permanent Residents (Green Card Holders) as most are not, will they find employers who sponsor them for work visas?
  • Will they find jobs in India using their US liberal arts degrees if they return to India?
  • Will they wonder after graduation if their expensive American education was worth it?
  • If not, how will they handle the guilt about the enormous economic sacrifice made by their middle class parents for their expensive education?

Education – a Romantic Dream or a Cost-Benefit Analysis?

This we believe is the key question. There is nothing like education to free the mind, to let an intellect soar into the wide panorama of learning. But the four years of joy pass away and then students face reality of a inhospitable job market as they or their parents try to cope with a massive debt load.

We see this reality playing out in cities across America. Will this reality hit a large number of Indian students coming to American Universities? In short, will these returning Indian students form a Occupy New Delhi protest?

We hope not, but we are not sanguine. But then, we believe Education is a cost-benefit analysis and that analysis often calls for study in areas that will provide a job and income. We love the dream but we live in reality.

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