In 2015, it was estimated that there were 4,627 degree-granting institutions in the U.S. Narrowing that number down to four-year degree programs, there were still an estimated 3,011 universities. These 3,011 four-year universities can be divided into two groups — public universities, higher education funded by taxpayers and the state and private universities, universities funded by student tuition and donations.
Due to the difference in how these universities gather funds, the disparity in tuition cost is large. Some claim the higher price tag is a sign private universities offer better education simply because it costs more and the degree has name recognition. It’s a hasty generalization mixed with a healthy dose of post hoc. Ivy League universities are private universities with extremely steep tuition and rank among the best schools in the country, so the faulty assumption is that all private universities with steep tuition offer superior education.
For example, Xavier University, a private university in New Orleans with a total tuition and fee cost of $24,348, has a four-year graduation rate of 30 percent. LSU, with the total cost of tuition and fees sitting at $11,950, has a four-year graduation rate of 40 percent. LSU’s out-of-state tuition and fees comes to $28,627, which is a few thousand more than the tuition of Xavier University. However, the median starting salary for LSU graduates, with their highest degree being a bachelor’s and three years of post-graduate experience, is $51,400, while the same number for Xavier graduates is $39,500.
This is not meant to disparage or belittle the students of Xavier University. That type of elitism is precisely what we should be trying to combat. In 2018, The Princeton Review ranked Xavier University in its list of 382 best institutions for undergraduate education. In 2017, The Wall Street Journal polled university students on how well they felt their education was preparing them for the future, and the opinions of Xavier University students gained the highest score in the South. Xavier University might win in some areas, such as out-of-state affordability and its important history as a predominately African American institution, but the University is successful on other counts like in-state affordability and median post-graduate income.
I hesitate to say some cheesy and clichéd remark like “not all universities are created equal,” but there is some weight to this particular platitude. While private universities offer more personal experiences with smaller student bodies, public universities are more accessible and far less competitive, offering quality education for an affordable price.
Since the student body is much larger and the degree programs are less personalized, it falls on public university students to guarantee they get the most from their education. At public universities, degrees can be granted with a minimum of effort, though this minimum is not conducive to a high GPA. It’s easy to exploit online homework and large classroom sizes by using test and homework swapping websites, but the degree is meaningless if the student’s effort output is a fraction of what the teacher intended.
Staying in contact with professors is a great way to circumvent the problems students face at public universities. This is the reason professors announce their office hours at the start of every semester. If the justification for such a high tuition at private universities is the emphasis on individuation, then it seems the gap is closing.
As technology and the ability to connect becomes easier, students at public universities have two choices: allow the tech to conglomerate the student body, exacerbating the trend of facelessness within large schools, or use this technology to strengthen communication, providing professors with faces to accompany the students.
Michael Frank is a 23-year-old political science and English senior from New Orleans, Louisiana.