The Original Public Ivy Schools–30 Years Later
For the past three years I have published my own Public Ivy list. Each year, just like U.S. News, I changed the methodology for my list based on what I had learned on my journeys to colleges. Even though the Public Ivy list has been one of my most popular posts, I have decided not to do the list this year. There are so many thoughts around educators, and the people who cover them, as to what a Public Ivy is. I would rather share them with readers and let them make their own call.
In 1985, the original list of Public Ivy schools was complied by Richard Moll, a former Yale admissions officer who later directed admissions at Bowdoin and Vassar. Moll did what I have done. He visited schools that he believed to offer an “Ivy League education at state school prices”. He discussed the honors programs offered by these schools, among other opportunities, offered to their very best students. He also discussed the quality of life for all students on campus.
Moll’s eight original Public Ivy schools included:
- The University of California campuses as a system, excluding Merced, which did not exist in 1985.
- Miami University of Ohio
- University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
- University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
- University of Texas-Austin
- University of Vermont
- University of Virginia
- College of William and Mary
Back in 1985 Moll did not consider the costs of his Public Ivy schools. Those seeking a college education considered state schools “cheap.”
In 1985-86, for example, Cornell, the real Ivy that is the most like a state university, charged approximately $12,600 in tuition and fees. Moll’s eight Public Ivy schools charged out-of-state students no more than 73 percent of Cornell’s sticker price. The University of Virginia charged non-residents 47 percent of what Cornell did. If someone told me that the University of Virginia was the best educational buy back in 1985, I would not have argued. The University of Texas-Austin was an even better buy as a Public Ivy; it charged non-residents 38 percent of what Cornell charged.
Thirty years later, more and more public colleges offer honors programs. Not all are limited to students who might have otherwise considered an Ivy League university.
And, quite frankly, the term “Ivy League education” does not mean much for the first two years at an Ivy League school.
How can I say that?
I have a brother, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law who graduated from Ivy League schools. Each attended large lecture classes as a freshman and a sophomore. They had graduate students as their primary point of contact for those classes. They received the same experience in the classroom as freshmen and sophomores at Rutgers and Penn State, among other state schools. Most Ivy League juniors and seniors receive the same classroom experiences as juniors and seniors in state schools, too, unless they are asked to write a thesis.
In past posts I have stated that a Public Ivy should charge every student, resident or non-resident, significantly less than s/he would pay to attend an Ivy League school. I also stated that a Public Ivy should come as close as possible to retaining and graduating students at the same rates as Ivy League schools. That’s been very hard for the original Public Ivy schools to do, though the University of Virginia has the same four-year graduation rate as Cornell, an excellent 87 percent. The problem today is that the University of Virginia costs about the same as Cornell for an out-of-state student.
Of the original Public Ivy schools, only one starts off with a sticker price at least one-third off the charges for a real Ivy for an out-of-state student. That school is Miami University of Ohio. The rest charge in excess of 70 percent of Cornell’s tuition and fees. Aside from Miami, only UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of Texas-Austin among the original Public Ivy schools charge out-of-state students significantly less than $40,000 in tuition and fess. But the University of Texas four-year grad rate is only 52 percent. A list of four-year public schools that do better includes not only the rest of the schools on this list, except the University of California-Riverside, but also universities such as Rutgers-New Brunswick, Penn State and Ohio State.
Miami University of Ohio has a generous merit scholarship program, as well as one of the best honors programs in the country. In addition, while Miami is a research university, undergraduates considerably out-number graduate students on campus. There are approximately 15,800 undergraduates at Miami, just over 2,600 graduate and professional school students and only 12 doctoral programs. The University of Virginia, by comparison has approximately 16,500 undergraduates, around 7,000 graduate students and more than 30 doctoral programs in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences alone.
It’s fair to say that a Miami of Ohio student is more likely to pay less than a University of Virginia student and get a very similar educational experience. It is also fair to say that the same Miami of Ohio student is likely to pay less and get a very similar educational experience than s/he would receive at Cornell.
Of course Miami does not get a freshman class that walks in with academic credentials similar to the freshmen who arrive at Cornell or Virginia. But Miami does very well with the students it gets. It graduates two thirds of a freshman class within four years. That’s better than any public university in Ohio, as well as Case Western Reserve, which is considered to be the best private research university in Ohio. It’s also better than most state schools with stronger brand names, including Florida, Penn State and Wisconsin, among others.
Miami of Ohio, among the original Public Ivy schools, is still a Public Ivy school today by my definition of a Public Ivy school. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill given its costs, endowment and excellent students as well as the Morehead Scholars program could also be considered a Public Ivy. If the four-year graduation rate for the University of Texas was better than 60 percent that school would make three.
As for the rest, a public university cannot be a Public Ivy when it charges out-of-state students as much as it would cost to attend a real Ivy. The high sticker price makes the concept of an Ivy League education at a state school price more outdated, and more ridiculous, than it already is.