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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity-backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He also has an MBA from the University of South Florida. ...

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Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Oct 18, 2013

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Norway is offering a way for Americans to obtain a college education without student loans.

All that is required is that students prove they can afford daily living and a single semester fee. Aside from that, tuition is free. Transportation is likely to cost little, if anything, since, like most European countries, Norway features a robust public transportation system.

The program is open to virtually any qualified non-Norwegian, but Americans seem to be unique in the developed world for having sky-high student loan debt. In comparison, higher education in many European countries is affordable, if not outright free.

Yes to Free Norwegian College

Kevin Merlini, a Tuition Researcher and Founder of Clipboard Plus, said that the higher education system in Norway differs greatly from what currently exists in America.

“For instance, the total number of students enrolled in the Norwegian university system in 2012 was 261,164, which is less than the University of Phoenix’s enrollment alone of 319,700 students, and definitely less than the 19.9 million college students in the United States in 2012,” he said.

One benefit that keeps Norway’s colleges so well funded is that the country has a higher tax rate than the US, hence why it is more practical for Norway to fund its colleges when compared to America trying to fund their public and private universities.

Despite these differences, Merlini wholeheartedly supports Americans studying abroad.

“There are likely to be advantages to a student with international experience when it comes time to look for employment, especially among companies who do a lot of business outside of the United States,” he said. “It is also important to note that while tuition is covered, flights and living expenses aren’t necessarily paid for by the Norwegian government unless you meet certain qualifications.”

Of course, not all degrees are equal. While some degree earners have an easier time getting a job, others face an uphill climb.

Adding in the fact that a degree may be from another country entirely can complicate the matter further. Merlini cautions prospective students to realize that a degree in Norway may not have an exact equivalent in America. However, it would certainly make someone stick out on applications.

He believes that dodging debt is one of the best ways that young adults can avoid becoming just another pawn in the growing class of indentured servants.

“For the latter half of the 20th century the American Dream lifestyle could be attained via numerous avenues, including widely available middle class jobs,” said Merlini. “A college degree was not necessary for employment; the work was respectable, stable and relatively well paying with good benefits.”

Unfortunately, times have changed. The wage gap between high school graduates and college graduates has widened. Unemployment is higher for those who only have high school diplomas. Middle class and working class jobs have also been outsourced or automated.

Of course, in order to gain the edge offered by education, young adults must pay tuition to get college educations. The time in which people could attend college while working and paying their way through it has passed.

Now, tuition is so high that students need to borrow student loans in order to attend. Come time for graduation, if the borrower can only get a job that pays a low amount, then they will have a hard time paying off their college debt.

This debt can swell due to interest, late fees, and penalties. A borrower can end up owing so much money that they will be forced to keep working and repaying it for the majority of their adult lives.

Alexander Dolin, a life coaching consultant, has accrued $100,000 in student loan debt after attending Ohio and Liberty Universities for his degrees. He wishes that he could have studied abroad in Norway and gotten his B.A. for cheaper.

“Hypothetically, if I had kids, I would allow my children to have this type of experience also, especially if it meant that they would graduate from college debt free,” said Dolin.

Understandably, Dolin fears that studying abroad would result in a degree that is not as respected as degrees from American Universities. Still though, the experience from studying abroad would be a resume-booster and a great cultural experience, on top of providing college-debt-free life.

An American in a German University

Holly Oberle, author of College Abroad, got her masters degree in Germany, completely tuition free. As she experienced first hand, it is a massive benefit to get an education without having to take on debt. In fact, she wishes she did the same thing for her bachelor studies in America that were paid for by student loans.

“To be honest, and I’m embarrassed to say in fact, I don’t know how much I borrowed in total,” she said. “This is a problem with the student loan system I think.”

Oberle’s parents paid off one her student loans and helped with another. At the moment, her debt stands at $16,000 as she plans to pursue a doctorate degree. She has every intention of completing those studies in Eastern Europe though.

While Oberle noted that Germany had some differences compared to American college life, she was most surprised by how German academia challenged her worldview.

“Students who are looking to avoid debt should absolutely consider college abroad, but at the same time it shouldn’t be the only reason someone goes abroad,” she said.

As more eyes turn to the Student Debt Crisis, more attention will be drawn toward alternatives to the American college system and its ever increasing tuition. Norway will certainly not be the last European country to get attention from debt-fearing American students.

“There are a lot of sacrifices, being away from friends and family, long plane rides home, and loneliness, but all of those things are also incredibly important and empowering learning experiences,” said Oberle. “The question is whether 20, 30, 40, or $60,000 of debt is worth staying someplace nearby and familiar and not challenging yourself culturally.”