College town

College Andre Chenier in Carcassonne
College Andre Chenier in Carcassonne

If you look at an online map of Carcassonne you might think that the downtown streets would be overrun with students of higher learning. As you zoom in on the hexagonal area called the bastide that was once surrounded by city walls you’ll see the names of 4 colleges pop up. It would seem unusual to have that many of these institutions for a population of 50,000 and you might be amazed at the ages of the students: 11 to 14 years old. Precocious?

Nope, just average early teenagers attending what we might call middle school or junior high. In properly accented French, a collège is where you go after elementary and before entering high school. Then if you go on to what we think of as college (université) your annual tuition will be 183 euro as an undergrad and 254 euro while getting a master’s degree.

This is a simplified version of the French education system but an interesting place to start. When I was an undergraduate at a state school in Virginia the tuition was 400 dollars per semester whether you took 1 credit hour or the maximum of 18 hours. Their website today says “There is no maximum tuition amount for students” meaning that if I took those same 18 credit hours today, the annual cost would be $10,764 plus fees. Hmmm, 183 euro per year or almost 11,000 dollars.

Before we knew where we wanted to retire we did a lot of online research about city vs. country, beach vs. mountains, sunniest places, bargain places, seemingly endless choices. One option was best college towns in the US. We initially liked the idea of being around a younger, educated population where culture and open-mindedness thrive. We forgot about students with no money living in rundown, substandard housing, loud, late-night parties, and crowds everywhere you go. We were recently in Toulouse, an hour from here, which has France’s second-largest student population, just behind Paris. I’m very happy with our own “college” town of Carcassonne.

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