Higher Education: Italy vs. America

“A Safe and Welcoming Harbor: A refugee’s dream,” Island of Lampedusa, Sicily, by Nidia Werner, Dickenson College Calss of 2019. “A Safe and Welcoming Harbor: A refugee’s dream,” Island of Lampedusa, Sicily, by Nidia Werner, Dickenson College Calss of 2019.

More than 300,000 U.S. students studied abroad in the last academic year and that number continues to increase. Of those 300,000 students, 40 percent study in Europe, namely France, Spain, the U.K., and of course Italy. While study abroad programs make the transition to a new country as smooth and easy as possible, there are some interesting differences in the college experiences of American students versus native Italian students. The application process, housing, areas of study, and enrollment are some of the biggest differences in the college lives of students in these two countries.

In America, it is more common for students to live in their on-campus dormitories. Universities in Italy have dormitories, but most Italian colleges such as the University of Milan, University of Turin, University of Florence, and the University of Bologna are in busy cities so students usually live in apartments or they commute from their homes. 

In Italy, students are more likely to study business and math related fields such as engineering, statistics and economics according to Statistica.com. Business majors are highly common among American students, but majors in health-related fields are popular as well, according to a study by CNBC. 

A key difference between American and Italian universities is enrollment. According to a report by Euro Stat published in the Local, “Italy has the second lowest percentage [26] of university graduates in the European Union.” In contrast, the U.S. Census reported that over one-third of Americans have a college degree. Even though university enrollment has increased in Italy, the lower enrollment trend spans all areas of education. For example, the same report said that Italy has a “high rate of early school leavers” and that 14 percent of Italians have not completed a secondary education. By comparison, the U.S. reached a record in 2017 with the highest number of high school educated citizens – 90 percent of the population, according to a U.S. Census report. The U.S. also tops Italy in terms of citizens with a higher education. 

There is also a major difference in employment between the U.S. and Italy. Italian university graduates find difficulty with immediate entry into the workforce. According to a report by the European Commission, Italians aged 25-29 with a university degree have a lower employment rate than those of the same age with only a high school degree in other countries. Additionally, the report confirmed that Italian university graduates lack literacy and comprehension skills that high school graduates earn in other European Union countries and they have the “highest share of underqualified workers” who “...do not have the skills required by that job or labor market.” The high unemployment rate for Italian university graduates is directly linked to Italy’s slow economic growth. As Forbes reported in February 2019, Italy experienced its third recession in a decade. Overall, Italy’s unemployment rate was 9.6 percent in May 2019. In contrast, the U.S. unemployment rate stood at 3.7 percent last month. 

While many differences exist in the lives of college students from country to country, one thing remains the same. A study abroad experience opens doors to many opportunities. The chance to immerse yourself in another culture and educational experience can be life changing.