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 2014-2015 academic year, annual prices for undergraduate
tuition, room and board were estimated to be $16,188 at public colleges and
$41,970 at private nonprofit colleges. Between 2004-05 and 2014-15, prices
for undergraduate tuition, room and board at public colleges rose by 33 percent,
and prices at private nonprofit colleges rose by 26 percent, after adjustment
The 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 $36,000 for in-state students to just
under $64,000 for out-of-state students. At Harvard University, those same
costs are $63,025 regardless of state residency.
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.
The good news is that financial aid is available
at both public and private universities. The NCES reports that, "Eighty-six
percent of all undergraduates enrolled in 2014-15 received some type of financial
aid. Undergraduates were more likely to receive grants than student loans
in 2014-15, but the average grant amount was less than the average student
Across 4-year institutions, the average federal grant
award in academic year 2014-15 ranged from $4,700 at public institutions to
$4,858 at private nonprofit institutions. The average amount borrowed by undergraduates
in 2014-15 was $7,000."
The report continues, "Undergraduates enrolled
in 2014-15 were more likely to receive federal grants (such as Federal Pell
Grants or Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants) than grants
from any other source. The percentage of students awarded federal grants at
4-year institutions was about twice as high at private for-profit institutions
(72 percent) as it was at public institutions (37 percent) and private nonprofit
institutions (33 percent)"
USNews.com reports that one of the best
values among national universities (in terms of costs offset by financial
aid) is Harvard University with 55 percent of freshmen in the 2016-17 receiving
financial aid based on need, mostly in the form of scholarships and grants.
The average cost after receiving aid based on need was $16,228. Secondly,
Princeton University had 62 percent of freshmen in the 2016-17 receiving grant
aid based on need. The average cost after receiving grant aid was $18,885.
that reason, experts say, students shouldn't just pay attention to sticker
price, but to net price as well.
Net price is the amount students pay
to attend an institution for an academic year after subtracting scholarships
and grants. In essence, net price is the final price a family can expect to
pay, and it's often lower than the published price, according to USNews.com.
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 after graduation.
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.
Some public 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.
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
Overall, 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 or private.
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.