Students face many decisions about college. One of the more pressing
questions is whether to attend a public or private university.
universities, such as the University of California, Berkeley or Georgia State
University, are generally supported through state funds. Most public universities
were founded and are operated by state governments. They are considered a
part of the government and are thereby subject to the rules and policies set
by the state.
Private universities, such as Harvard or Yale, are
supported by endowments, gifts and donations from alumni and friends. They
operate without the control of a government entity. They have more freedom
in setting their admission qualifications and other policies. Some are private
not-for-profit institutions and others are private for-profit institutions.
When considering whether to attend a private university or a public
one, some major considerations include costs, the quality of education and
the benefits and options available after graduation. Many of the United States'
most prestigious universities are private, so they tend to be more expensive
than state schools.
The National Center for Educational Statistics
(NCES) writes: "For the 2005-06 academic year, annual prices for undergraduate
tuition, room and board were estimated to be $10,454 at public colleges and
$26,889 at private colleges. Between 1995-96 and 2005-06, prices for undergraduate
tuition, room and board at public colleges rose by 30 percent, and prices
at private colleges rose by 21 percent, after adjustment for inflation."
above are merely averages. For example, in terms of basic fees, at the University
of California, Berkeley, the cost of attendance, living on campus, ranges
from about $23,000 for in-state students to just under $42,000 for out-of-state
students. At Harvard University, those same costs are $46,450 regardless of
As one of the most selective state schools, the University
of California, Berkeley has among the highest state school fees. It is worth
noting, though, that costs there are still significantly lower than private
institutions' fees, and much lower for in-state students.
news is that financial aid is available at both public and private universities.
The NCES reports that, "Sixty-three percent of all undergraduates enrolled
in 2003-04 received some type of financial aid. Undergraduates were more likely
to receive grants than student loans in 2003-04, but the average grant amount
was less than the average student loan amount. About one-half (51 percent)
of the undergraduates received grants and about one-third (35 percent) took
out student loans. The average amount of grants received was $4,000, and the
average amount borrowed by undergraduates in 2003-04 was $5,800."
report continues, "Undergraduates enrolled in 2003-04 were more likely to
receive federal grants than grants from any other source. Twenty-eight percent
of all undergraduates received federal grants (such as Federal Pell Grants
or Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants), 18 percent received
institutional grants, 15 percent received state grants and 15 percent received
grants from other sources (e.g., employers, parents' employers or private
foundations or organizations)."
USNews.com reports that the best value
at national universities (in terms of costs offset by financial aid) is Harvard
University with 49 percent receiving grants based on need. The average cost
after receiving grants based on need is $15,647. And the average discount
from the total cost: 66 percent. Secondly, Princeton University has 52 percent
receiving grants based on need. The average cost after receiving grants based
on need is $16,741. And the average discount from the total cost: 63 percent.
These figures are based on 2006 costs.
Students should consult financial
aid counselors at selected universities to find out what types of financial
aid are available to them, and how to qualify for scholarships and grants
at public or private institutions. Students and parents should try to be realistic
in factoring in financial considerations in order to avoid a heavy debt load
There are some differences in the educational content
of private and public universities, though some would argue that perceived
differences are greater than actual ones. While a graduate of a public university
may be well-prepared to enter the marketplace, a student who graduates from
a private university, such as one of the Ivy League institutions, may have
an edge based upon the reputation of the institution.
colleges and universities, however, may have excellent reputations for graduating
students in specific fields of study. That allows those students to be highly
competitive and sought after in the marketplace. Ultimately, many employers
are able to distinguish between alma mater and actual workplace skills, but
prospective students should weigh these issues when choosing between private
and public universities.
In terms of typical real differences, at
most private universities, the ratio of students to teachers is generally
low. There are often well-known and well-regarded figures among the faculty.
However, tenured professors are often expected to publish and to teach graduate
level courses, and they may not be particularly available to students. In
most public universities, there may be a few hundred students in one class.
However, faculty may be more approachable. There are also graduate teaching
assistants and instructors available for undergraduate classes, employed by
both public and private schools.
Students should also consider their
personal needs and preferences. A private college may have restrictions that
affect an individual student in an unfavorable way. However, a public university
is not allowed to discriminate against most diverse lifestyles.
it is important to look at which school excels in the student's chosen field
of study, and is financially accessible and personally suitable. These are
more important factors to consider than whether the institution is public
With research, and by carefully weighing
the options, the decision will become less confusing. Students can achieve
their goals at either type of institution. Determination and drive ultimately
establish one's success in the global marketplace.