Every year that I put up my annual list of the Public Ivies I receive a lot of comments as well as criticism. This year’s post was no exception. So I thought that I would take a re-visit at the schools that were the Original Public Ivies.
In 1985, a former admissions director named Richard Moll went on a country-wide expedition. He wanted to find state-supported universities that came close to offering the academic rigor more commonly associated with the most prestigious private schools. His book does a nice job of covering the more personalized educational offerings that were available at his chosen schools at that time. I tried to find the book on Amazon for you, but I couldn’t. As proof of the book’s existence I put up a picture of pennants for the schools from the cover of my well-worn copy.
Miami, UCLA and UNC-Chapel Hill are the only Original Public Ivies that made my list for 2020-21.
However Binghamton, Georgia Tech and Illinois, Public Ivies on my list, were runners-up in Moll’s book.
Miami University of Ohio is certainly proud to call itself an ‘Original Public Ivy’ and does so on its Web site. The University of Vermont did it through a 2018 news piece. It’s also mentioned among the ‘Cool Facts’ about the College of William & Mary. The University of Virginia mentions that it is “known as a Public Ivy school” in an August, 2019 news piece that announced the school’s Top 10 ranking in Money magazine.
Cornell, the real Ivy that is the most like a state university, charged approximately $12,600 in tuition and fees for the 1985-86 academic year. Three undergraduate schools are actually part of a state university system. These included the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Human Ecology. Those schools are specialized, and have always been difficult to get into. Back then, those schools charged non-residents 71 percent of the charges assessed by the private undergrad schools at Cornell. Today, non-residents pay 100 percent. Since applicants to some of these Original Public Ivies–especially Michigan and Virginia–also considered academic programs that were offered only in the private colleges at Cornell, it is only fair to compare public to private.
This is where the ‘public’ in Public Ivies has meaning. A public university is meant to be more affordable than a private university, even for non-residents. A frame of reference is also necessary to show that prospective students are likely to pay less.
As I stated in my last post on this cycle’s Public Ivies, Yale charges $57,700, the lowest tuition and fees among the Ivy League schools. It’s only fair that all students who choose a Public Ivy should pay less for tuition and fees, room and board, than they would pay to Yale in tuition and fees alone. If you’re fortunate enough to be admitted to Yale, the university is more likely than most to meet full need. Public universities do not have Yale’s resources. But they have a public obligation to be more affordable than private colleges.
The College of William & Mary is one of the Original Public Ivies most similar to a private Ivy. It has around 7,000 undergrads, about the same as Harvard. But the college charges non-residents over $59,000 for tuition and fees, room and board. UVa, which attracts over 30 percent of a class from out-of-state, charges over $64,000. Neither is much of a discount over a private Ivy League school.
But on the flip side, Miami’s non-resident sticker price is just over $50,000 and the school has a generous merit aid program. UNC-Chapel Hill is an even better buy at just over $45,000, presuming you can get in. Lower costs made them Public Ivies in my view. Everyone pays less. And the very best students, the merit scholars, will pay even less than the sticker.
Back then College of William & Mary had an 80 percent four-year graduation rate, best among the Original Public Ivies. UVa was second at 76 percent, followed by Michigan at 69 percent. But only one University of California campus, UC-Santa Barbara, graduated over half of a freshman class. So did three more of the Original Public Ivies: UNC-Chapel Hill (52%), the University of Vermont (54%) and Miami University of Ohio (56%).
In 1985 the costs of education were lower. There was less need for incentives to retain students and graduate them in four years. Today, no college, even a flagship public university can easily afford to lose a full-pay resident student. It’s less likely that there will be a new student who will take their place. So, academic advising has gotten better at many public colleges.
Cornell, the Ivy that is closest in size and academic options to a flagship state university, has a four-year graduation rate of 87 percent. Penn, the next largest Ivy, has a four-year graduation rate of 86 percent. Among the Original Public Ivies, UVa (89%) and William & Mary (86%) are Ivy equals. UNC-Chapel Hill (84%) comes close.
It’s harder for much larger public schools to achieve such high graduation rates. Such schools have obligations to favor in-state students in admissions, and must be sensitive to the population of their states, especially low-income and first generation applicants. It’s quite rare for a large public school to have a four-year graduation rate in excess of 70 percent. So, I used 70 percent as my cut-off for a Public Ivy.
That knocked the University of Texas-Austin off my list, though that school met my standard for costs. It would have also knocked off the University of Vermont (67%) and all of the University of California campuses, except UCLA, UC-Santa Barbara and UC-Berkeley. Those last two University of California campuses missed on costs. Housing is quite expensive on both campuses.
Honors offerings received considerable mention in Moll’s 1985 book. Today there are many more public honors colleges, and their opportunities are accessible to many more students. There’s a Web site, Public University Honors, devoted to describing them in detail. A very good-to-excellent student who is motivated towards a more personal honors experience can find one. That student does not need always need a 4.0+ GPA and near-perfect test scores to get into an honors opportunity.
The first two years of the honors college experience at many public universities is more personal, like a small liberal arts college, than it is at an Ivy. Those who can become a Morehead-Cain Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill or an Echols Scholar at Virginia should take the offer seriously, and have no reservations about turning down a private Ivy.
How do I know this? I have a younger brother, brother in law and sister in law who are graduates of Ivy League universities. The first two years of their college education took place mainly in large-lecture classes, just like my first two years at Rutgers. When you choose an Ivy, with few exceptions, you are part of the full freshman class. You’re not part of a special group that receives more attention from the faculty. Once you get in, you can usually stay in. But you have to work to find the education and experiences you want, as you would at a Public Ivy.
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