American higher education is expensive. Very expensive (total expenses in an Top Ivy League school are around US$ 50,000 per year). This is an exorbitant amount in the eyes of most Europeans (and many Americans, as well, of course), for whom universities are either free or heavily subsidized by the State.
Nevertheless, America's great universities may as well be worth paying for. According to a ranking of the top 100 world universities created by Quacquarelli Symonds, a self-styled “global carreer and education network”, the United States counts with thirty-seven higher education institutions on that list. That amounts to the same number of top-100 universities as the next five countries in the list added together. No doubt, the Americans have an incredible advantage over the rest of the world in terms of higher education.
However, what top 100 university rankings prove above all else, is the unparalleled standing and importance of the English language. More than 60% of the best universities in the planet are somewhere in the English-speaking world. The United Kingdom, the second country in the ranking, and one that houses such honorable institutions as Cambridge and Oxford, also counts with a great number of magnificent universities. Australia is third in the list, closely followed by Canada (which has excellent French-speaking and English-speaking schools). This means that most of the world's top-notch research and best scholars (Nobel Laureates, Fields Medal winners, politicians and philosophers) speak, think and write in English.
In comparison, other so-called world languages seem to be doing pretty badly. Mainland China and France only count with 2 top-100 universities, according to QS. There is not one single Spanish-speaking university on the list, even if Spanish is spoken by 500 million-odd people in more than 20 countries.
Perhaps future parents would like to take this into account when thinking about their children's higher education. This should also give some pause for thought to those who are ideologically opposed to the concept of private universities. As things are right now, eleven of the best fifteen universities in the world do not receive public funding.