David Levine

Research Scientist, University of Tennessee


This conversation is closed.

Are private universities worth the money for a bachelor's degree?

The average cost of getting a bachelor's degree has steadily grown since the 1980's. With many private universities costing 2-5 times the cost of public universities, are there really benefits for the majority of students? Or are there minimal differences between the two? Can student get as much out of a state university as a private one if they just work at it?

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    Apr 17 2014: David, Students from K - 12 through PHd have the same thing in common ... they are exposed to the opportunity to learn. Some drink heavly from the fountian of knowledge and some skate by. I have had some in R & D that should never have been hired who had a big name school on the sheep skin .. and some from a small school who made a difference to the project.

    If there were a real advantage in Private VS Public then the hiring process would be heavly favoring one or the other. I worked for a company that favored Texas A & M over all others. I was in the military and know there is a ring knockers club for each service academy.

    In my experience I cannot see the difference or justify the expense. The sheep skin just opens the door. At some point you must produce ... yep ... the truth is in the pudding ...

    The sad truth is that a key from a big school frat ... opens more doors. Especially in government / politics / and other good ole boy organizations ... once they are in they do not have to produce ... have no responsibility to the public ... and are not held accountable ... they do receive heavy pay checks and socialize for advancement.

    Dave, what brought you to this question? We can all read where you hail from and your title. So what up?

    Just curious ..... Bob.
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      Apr 17 2014: Bob - I think having worked in both (public and private), having attended both (private twice and public twice) and having 4 children who are all unique has led me to my own opinions. There is no 1 answer. The college that gives the student the best chance to meet their career objectives and to become a life long learner is the best choice.

      Matching students to a university/college is much more important than we think. They need to fit in from a social, academic, rigor, etc., perspective. This matching process is student and parent driven but often finances and geography play the biggest role.
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      Apr 19 2014: Robert, I definitely have to agree with you in regards to the degree of "favoritism" seen in the working world. It appears that a lot of what gets an individual through the interview process and through the doors is a matter of who they know, what fraternity/sorority they are a member of, and what university they attended. Of course many of these individuals generally flounder or otherwise fail at their jobs, but once they move up to a level where they are "protected" or cannot otherwise backtrack to a "lower level" position, the upper-level management usually keeps them on board or even "promotes" them into a position where they can't do as much damage to the company (i.e. the Dilbert Principle). Similar to this are the employees who are promoted to their highest level of incompetence (i.e. the Peter Principle), but that's another rant for another time.

      Obviously there are quite a few exceptional individuals who attended prestigious universities, are self-motivated, incredibly intelligent, and truly excel in their career fields. However, these are innate qualities that are unique to the individual, not the university that they attended. As you pointed out, the problem is that individuals with degrees from prestigious universities generally get preferential treatment.
    • Apr 27 2014: Bob,

      Whether you like it or not, private or public magnet schools allow for better students that are selected and I think this forces the teachers to be better or they would be laughed out of the classroom.
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        Apr 27 2014: There is no argument that private and magnet schools have a better selection of students. However, IMO, the difference lies in the administration. The administrators do what they use to do in the public system. They manage. They can hold a teachers feet to the fire and can take action when they do not produce. They have budget constraints ... they have obligations and contracts with parents ... and both the teachers and the administrators do what is necessary to meet the obligations ... it is very simple .. failure is not an option. With failure comes closure. Again, my opinion, I think that this makes for a better team and is a key element in the success of private and magnet schools. The admnistrators, teachers, students, and parents are all on the same team and it is pretty much transparent. Each has a voice and a stake in the outcome.

        Thanks for the reply. Bob.
  • Apr 27 2014: Very interesting question! Working for several years in the urban education sector, wherein many students couldn’t afford to attend an Ivy League school unless they got a full ride scholarship, I see this a couple of different ways. I do see the value in Ivy League education and for my students who had scholarships I always pushed them to take advantage of the distinctive opportunities provided within Ivy League schools. Certainly, the name looks great on a resume and certain schools are ranked higher than others for specific programs. With that said, I agree with many of the comments on here. For the most part, your education is what you make of it and you can certainly get a great education at a public school in the same manner that you could at any private school. Regardless of where you go to school, you will have a variety of good, bad, and indifferent teachers. I like to believe it is the good teachers that make the students’ experience worthwhile. The biggest challenge that I have with Ivy League education is that while students receive a stellar education many of them still come out of college (depending on what they majored in) unable to find a job right away because it is such a tough market. I have friends that went to notably prestigious private universities and they had just as difficult a time finding a job as those students coming from state schools. Couple that with reports indicating many companies have lowered the annual salaries of entry-level employees due to budget cuts, thus leaving students accountable for large sums of money that they can’t afford to pay back. It is important that prior to even going to college, students evaluate the availability for jobs in their city when choosing a major and accompanying college. It is equally important that students do not pick a field that is oversaturated with little to no opportunity for career advancement.
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    Apr 17 2014: I don't see as much difference between the two, as much as, I see differences in professors at institutions both private and public. I've had great professors and some that were flat out terrible. A great professor can engage a student and challenge them to think critically about the subject matter, while others simply regurgitate information via Power Point.

    The real question I have is will the rising cost of college education at both public and private universities lead to fewer students enrolling in college over time or will we see a forced change in the current higher education model that better meets the needs of students and reduces cost?

    With student loan debt currently estimated at $1.17 trillion one has to wonder how we can continue this trend of continued hikes to college tuition and fees.
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    Apr 24 2014: Depends of where are those private universites .If you want to know are they worth the money, watch your country, because, the schools are "society microcosmos", so if your country is supported by low, justice, quality politicans- then those universities are surely worth any money.

    For example, there's expansion of those universities in my country, and they are based on taking money and low criteria. It's kind of supporting the theory of education that includes only the rich.
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      Apr 24 2014: Interesting thoughts! I think the US UG education almost assumes most students work and with 12 credits being "full-time" in many places you can easily work. 30 credits is high - but for example first semester in medical school is typically 25-28 so it's not unheard of.

      Your question of why are we charging so much for the best schools is debatable. Sure, some of the best are expensive but many small, private liberal arts colleges are 40,000 plus per year and are not that good. Some state schools are excellent and a bargain. 40K of debt at graduation is not too bad but it could be better. States need to invest in making public education excellent and cheap.
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    Apr 27 2014: The gap depends on the economy you're talking about. In Nigeria, where there's a failure of government to maintain and manage these institutions the private institutions are your best bet. Not because there are no qualified staff in the state and federal institutions, in fact the state and federal institutions are likely to have more professors than private institutions but there're better methods for quality assurance in private institutions that loosely managed government run universities.
    I went to a private university, and two years after I graduated some of my classmates from secondary school haven't got their degree yet owing to first the difficulty of getting admission (cause of the amount of people trying to get in) and then incessant strikes which sets the school calender back for several months.
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    Apr 26 2014: David, Most states have the same wording in their constitution about education .. it is worded differently but basically that they will provide a quality education for as close to free as possiable. If true, then why does it cost us personally and again through taxes to support our local state school.

    In Arizona we have three AZ State, Univ of AZ, and Northern AZ Univ. ASU and UofA are research schools with big ticket sports programs, and large dowery programs ... they literally take in billions of dollars in grant, research, sports, student costs, etc ... yet the state also gives the schools billions of dollars each year. Each year the schools say they cannot operate without a rate hike and larger state donation.

    So the question comes down to management. Private schools have a budget and adjust their spending accordingly. State schools are "funded" and if they overspend they just go back and say we want more. In this way they are like all other government agencies. Continue to grow and spend without the responsibility of budget or quality.

    Former Sec of Ed Bennett stated that only 150 of the 3500 colleges are worth the investment. (see story at finance.yahoo.com/.../only-150-3500-u-colleges...former-132020890.html)

    We often choose by reputation and not value .... Just because the school has four nobel professors will not help you unless that is your chosen field. The school hires them to get research grants from the government and industry.

    I know the argument wears thin to some of "Is education big business". Any place that recieves and spends billions of dollars a year is "big business".

    So lets add a thought ... could most students go to a tech school and do well? Have we become educational snobs that believe that without a Univ sheep skin you are a failure? Some of my best teachers were in Sunday school.

    Always great to have exchanges with you. I wish you well. Bob.
  • Apr 25 2014: I am fresh from spending more than what my house is worth on two college educations, one public, one private. Both children have jobs and I believe were made ready to face the challenges of the future by the experience.

    I believe that the short answer is that it depends on the student, and the parent's perception of the student's ability to thrive and get the most from the experience of education. In addition to scholastic skills, there are maturity issues, self-starting issues, a belief in the ability to gain proportionally to the expense from the experience in terms of job placement or experiences, and the perceived ability for the student to have a stellar experience by both the student and the parents.

    I believe that going to a private school for the sake of going to private school is a waste of money. I believe that a student should not be allowed to get into debt beyond which graduates from such a program have little or no chance to recover from financially. I see this as borderline criminal. In my world, school administrators that allow this to happen should be cellmates with the college student credit card solicitors that prey on students.

    There is substantial risk that the student will not perform well and that other maturity issues will inhibit them from taking advantage of all the things a private school has to offer. It is a very difficult thing for a parent to objectively weigh as you are influenced by your hopes and dreams for your child. The thought that if you just increase his/her ability to focus on studies with smaller class to teacher ratios or similar things is a very seductive thought.

    The reality is that the student has to want it and be the initiator for success at either public of private. If the experience goes south, the real difference is that the lessons will be expensive. Also less publicized is the difficulty in transferring from a quarter based private school to a semester base public school.

    Go public is my recommendation now
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    Apr 24 2014: I graduate in May from a public university. I have friends that go to private universities, and I have a few thoughts on this subject.

    1. The right teacher will make any education worth the money. I've had downright awful professors, but I've had some that have been worth the entire 40k I currently owe to SallieMae. It could be said that I was a student who really wanted to learn and gain something from her education experience, but those REALLY good teachers made all the difference.I learned something from them, and consider myself to be a better member of society for it.

    2. I complain often about the poor quality of education. The same is true for some of my friends who attend Ivy league schools. However, during any given semester, I might have 1 or (rarely) 2 professors that really teach me something. At a place like Brown University, that number seems to rise quite a bit.

    The question, I think, should be why are we charging so much for the best schools? They become these elite societies, and eliminate bright students from having access to the same quality of education.

    Put it this way- This semester, I took 30 credits. A typical full-time semester is roughly 12-15 credits. I easily doubled my peers in credit hours. I also raised 1500 dollars for a charity by organizing an art auction and various other things, and managed to ski a few days. No student should be able to manage this type of course work... but I could. Why is that? Well, I'm certainly no different then a lot of my peers. I drive a crappy car, I have roommates... I'm smart, but still have a lot to learn... so why? Because the quality of my education is so poor that I can get through it by showing up to class. Undergrad has become, not only economically, but literally, the equivalent of high school. At this point, it's hard to justify paying for ANY university, private or public... but there's always that one teacher.
  • Apr 24 2014: Let's REALLY think about this. If my kids public education is subsidized by your taxes, and your kids public education is subsidized by my taxes, aren't we both really paying a high price for the public education? Why do we allow ourselves to be deceived, thinking we are getting a great deal?
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      Apr 24 2014: I agree - but every state has its own way of funding public Universities. It is very cheap in TN compared to many states. You could receive a bachelors degree for under 10,000 if you are a reasonably good student (no special scholarships). Try doing that in ANY private school. So I can pay 200,000 for my kids to go to a private University or 10,000 for the State University.
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    Apr 19 2014: i don't believe the content is worth it.

    all you're doing is learning how to reproduce a standard essay format and you're done. get a bit of paper that gets you in the door for a job and then you start learning the job.

    if i could do my time over, i would leave school at about 15
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      Apr 24 2014: Sometimes I feel the same.. seems like it's often just a place where you lose any creative inclinations anyway.
  • Apr 19 2014: David,

    As I said earlier it depends on the student and what they want out of college. My children went to small private school and they wanted small classes, knowing their profs, and getting make close friends. My wife and I both went to large public universities. The honor programs were good and going to a large university was what I wanted. I graduated with over 200 credits, courses in more things that I was interested in. Being at a large university made it easier to take all the courses I wanted with the outside interest (I love films and books). Yes, a student can get a very good education but will have to work harder for it at a large public university. Also, the transfer and failure rate is higher. I had to spend several nights talking to friends that they were not failures, just not ready for the experience. One graduated from a small high school and he never learnt how to study. When he was in a class of 200, each as smart or smarter than he was, he was not prepared for it.
  • Apr 17 2014: It depends entirely upon the individual private INSTITUTION. There are degree-awarding institutions that are not universities. Believe it or not, little 4-year colleges (not universities, colleges) can produce very high-quality baccalaureates in any field.
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    Apr 17 2014: The only real advantage to private education is the political connections one makes and that is because so many other already connected families prefer to send their kids to certain private schools. But knowledge is knowledge no matter where you get it. More cost does not equal more understanding.

    The analogy I like to make is private addiction treatment centers. The information, the practices and, especially the knowledge, offered in the expensive spa oriented facilities is identical to that offered at any local community addiction help group. Only the optics and the cost differ, not the results.
  • MR T

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    Apr 16 2014: No in a purely platonic sense, you can learn everything from a degree and more on the internet for free


    But yes in terms of making connections with others that may get you where you want to be.

    Ideal combo = learn online and spend lots of time socialising elsewhere
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      Apr 16 2014: Yes and no.
      It depends on what you want to study.
      For example, if you study medicine, chemistry, physics, etc, the internet alone wouldn't be enough because you actually have to get your hands dirty in practical work (laboratory for example) as well.
      There is another problem too. You can be a real expert on something having learned it only from the internet.
      However, if you start looking for employment you will soon find that employers give more value to your education if you can list an university (if it is a famous one even better) than just listing the internet as source of your wisdom.
      Personally, I think that will change though eventually.
      • MR T

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        Apr 17 2014: Yes fair point, I was thinking more along the lines of being self employed.
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          Apr 17 2014: In that case it's obviously easier because you only have to respond to yourself ;-)
    • Apr 18 2014: I agree Mr T with the ideal combo. The knowledge should be freely available online. Then you can just test through the credits or signup for a class if you want to get involved. 200 people moving through the material at the same pace is fabulously inefficient.
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    Apr 16 2014: In the 80's and 90's I taught and chaired a department at a private university. I came to believe in this system for a particular group of young people. That group are those who want to be hands on and ankle deep in the material right from the outset of their college experience. My son attended a large California University and his smallest freshmen class was 250 students. Our university did not allow classes larger than 40 students and preferred 14-20 per class.

    As the prof. I knew every student in every class. I spent time with each one and cold focus on their academic (and occasionally other) issues. Many times I acted as a champion for them with other prof.s and was approached many times by other teachers regarding a particular student.

    That interaction and systemic protection and nurturing simply didn't exist at the much larger universities.

    There are certainly pros and cons. We had very little research money, for example. We were not bound so heavily to publish or perish either.

    I think it all depends on the student's personality. What is their comfort level and capability when they are 1 of 250 vs 1 of 14?
    • Apr 17 2014: Jim,
      Where are the guarantees that protect students from a faulty educational experience,
      after placing them so deeply in debt to the US government?

      I seek to find if this question has easy answers.
      Perhaps you can help with your hands on experiences.

      The argument of class size has been going for 50 or 60 years. In my mind, It started as an
      offshoot of salary considerations. Why a per student salary hasn't been fed into the demand
      area is interesting.

      Publish or perish is another parasite colloquialism, still hanging around looking for a badge
      to give it courage.

      As I write tonight, I feel almost an idiot. That is probably close to the truth. Sorry.
      I just read what I've written, and now I'm looking for a way out... Headache? lol
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        Apr 17 2014: I love the thoughts...there of course is no guarantee but good advisement and self-assessment go a long away. I am opposed to so many students going to private liberal arts colleges and then waking up after 3 years and thinking now what? In their 4th year they realize they need to think about a career but it is very late in the game. Maybe students looking at colleges should ask - here are my objectives, how can I meet them at this institution?
        • Apr 17 2014: Spot on David. Your conclusion is exactly right.

          I was one of those, who learned late. But, did learn, finally.
          As the most critical person on this planet, I challenged schools
          from day one. Flunked Geometry because I refused to believe.

          Must be one of those new suicide cricket parasites in my brain
          leading me to swim in the deep waters. lol
  • Apr 30 2014: Bon essai:http://www.best-produit.com/le-kingsing-t1-est-peut-etre-le-telephone-avec-processeur-octocore-le-moins-cher/
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    Apr 28 2014: Good point! Each country (or province, regions, etc.) is likely to have their own unique circumstances.
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    Apr 25 2014: I would say that all comes down to the student. I work at a small, non-profit institution and the atmosphere here definitely taps into a specific type of student. Those looking for personal attention and specific guidance feel very comfortable here. On the other hand, I went to a large public institution for my bachelor's degree (Mizzou). I loved it because I had no idea what I wanted to do...I just wanted to experience college with sports, events, and TONS of organizations. That's not for everyone, though.

    I think we're entering (or perhaps already in) an age where students who can afford the "college experience" will decide what they want that to be. The focus on specific content will likely matter less than how the institution helps students explore the four C's for themselves (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity).

    Of course, there will be those who cannot afford this (either in terms of time or money), but will still be able to get their degree in an online, competency format (WGU, College for America, and MOOC providers if they get moving on it).

    Interesting question, David!
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    Apr 25 2014: The ratings favor lower faculty-student ratio, financial resources, retention, graduation rate, etc.

    Are the ratings valid? That is a whole other discussion!
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    Apr 25 2014: well, it does seem that private universities are rated more highly than public ones academically, right? Wonder why that is?
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    Apr 21 2014: When we get to the bottom line in education, it really comes down to ROI. As a nation whose kids are $1T+ in debt are we getting an economic boost from them that will offset that cost? I don't know that answer and would be interested in any research anyone has on that topic.

    I came back to school very late after a long stint in the military. And, I believe strongly in a liberal arts education for undergrads. But... if all we manage to teach baccalaureate candidates is to appreciate Walt Whitman and Impressionist artists, we probably won't get our money's worth. Don't get me wrong, I love Whitman and most impressionists but a nation of scholars still needs someone to run industry and someone to invent and develop new ideas and products. And someone to defend it.

    Scholarship for scholarship sake is a fine achievement but it takes much more to make a nation successful.

    So whether a student gets their degree from a liberal arts school or a large public university the overall collective outcome is the measure of our intellectual capital as a nation. I always remember something I saw once that there are those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. So the student and the school have to ask where in that triad they want to be.
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    Apr 21 2014: It depends on the student. No amount is too much to be paid for education if the learner takes the responsibility of building on what is taught.
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    Apr 19 2014: Over the last 20 years I have found the professors at privates (not the more prestigious ones) are much less accomplished than at the publics. This gap in many fields has widened tremendously. Why - at the publics the interview and hiring process is usually nationally advertised and competitive. Privates, in general, hire who they want. This of course is just a general comment, and up for debate in the various discipline. In the medical fields in general, many privates can't compete with the state universities faculty. The privates also tend to have less tenure track people for a variety of reasons but one is they would never get tenure in the large research intensives.
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    Apr 18 2014: Everyone agrees that there are many issues about education that must be addressed - relevance and affordability, to name two.

    That said, are private universities worth the money for a bachelor's degree?


    "IF YOU THINK EDUCATION IS EXPENSIVE, TRY IGNORANCE." Derek Curtis Bok (born March 22, 1930) is an American lawyer and educator and the former president of Harvard University.

    The questions that must be asked are:
    1) How can we make everyone value education?
    2) How can we make education relevant?
    3) How can we make education affordable and sustainable?
    4) How can we work together to build the schools that our children need?
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      Apr 19 2014: But are they worth more (generally 3-10 times more) than publics?
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        Apr 19 2014: In the public school sector, it is not easy to gather accurate data on the actual cost per student per year.

        For example: Aside from the federal and state subsidies, the UC system charges tuition and other fees. If all those subsidies and fees are accurately accounted for, is the cost of attending a comparable private universtiy such as Stanford still 3-10 times more?

        My daughter who graduated from the UC system made some calculations and she concluded that the UC system cost per student may be comparable to Stanford.

        "The state of California currently spends US$2.56 billion or 2% of its annual budget (2011–12) on the UC system, down from US$3.04 billion or 3.8% of its annual budget in 2000-01. In May 2004, UC President Robert C. Dynes and CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed struck a private deal, called the "Higher Education Compact," with Governor Schwarzenegger. They agreed to slash spending by about a billion dollars (about a third of the University's core budget for academic operations) in exchange for a funding formula lasting until 2011. The agreement calls for modest annual increases in state funds (but not enough to replace the loss in state funds Dynes and Schwarzenegger agreed to), private fundraising to help pay for basic programs, and large student fee hikes, especially for graduate and professional students. A detailed analysis of the Compact by the Academic Senate "Futures Report" indicated, despite the large fee increases, the University core budget did not recover to 2000 levels. Undergraduate student fees have risen 90% from 2003 to 2007. In 2011, for the first time in UC's history, student fees exceeded contributions from the State of California.

        The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco recently ruled that the UC owes nearly US$40 million in refunds to about 40,000 students who were promised that their tuition fees would remain steady, but were hit with increases when the state ran short of money in 2003"
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          Apr 20 2014: Interesting points - many publics are raising tuition almost yearly (of course may privates have as well). The differences between states can also be huge - public "flagship" education varies from around 7500 - 20,000 based on the state.
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          Apr 20 2014: "For example: Aside from the federal and state subsidies, the UC system charges tuition and other fees. If all those subsidies and fees are accurately accounted for, is the cost of attending a comparable private universtiy such as Stanford still 3-10 times more?"

          I agree here as well - I was referring to the cost for the student - not the state and University.
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    Apr 17 2014: It appears that it has a lot less to do with the financial costs than it does with the motivation of the student and the general size of the university. What I mean by this is that, even at the undergraduate level, universities are great networking experiences, yet many students don't take the opportunity to fully utilize such resources, or quite simply don't know how to effectively network. In a sense, this might be the reason why students oftentimes seem to "slip through the cracks" or otherwise end up working jobs that they could have otherwise attained without a degree.

    Based on my personal experiences of being a returning student who is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree at a state university, and who had previously attended a community college for two associate's degrees, I honestly found it easier to develop a more professional network with my professors at the community college. The community college offered much smaller class sizes, where the professors actually knew their students by name, actively taught the class and hosted the labs, and were almost always available outside of class. Meanwhile, the state university that I currently attend has huge lecture halls for many of the classes, where it's quite rare for the professors to know the names of their students. Beyond that, most of the professors go the PowerPoint route when hosting the lecture sections of their classes, and usually have undergraduate or graduate TAs hosting the lab sections.

    Basically, it appears that larger universities (both private and public) had to make adjustments over the years in order to accommodate the steady influx of students. This has left professors with less available time to spend with their students (between research, lesson planning, and instructing multiple course sections among other things), and has made the whole networking experience quite daunting, if not damn near impossible.
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    Apr 17 2014: I have to agree with most of this but where are the mentors for these students if not in College?
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    Apr 17 2014: In this fast moving world, Universities can't even keep up in technology, or the most important the psychological mindset of teens now, As a college student I can say that teenagers now are more mature and business mindset, entrepreneurs are getting more younger and wiser, and when you asked them how they become the persona they are now, 85% of all the responded answers are experience and Internet with hard work, they don't even talk about their colleges they attended.

    My point private or public doesn't really matter at all, Its your maturity to pursue your goal, graduate or undergrad, In life theirs no shortcut and all goes to the same obstacles. and how to stand out to the crowd. your knowledge and skills should be put in mind and heart, not on a fancy glittered good smelling paper.
  • Apr 17 2014: David, if you must ask this query,
    you are plainly out of touch.
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      Apr 17 2014: Why out of touch? I have my own opinions but have worked in both sectors. I also have 4 children who fit into this picture.
      • Apr 17 2014: I apologize David.
        I whipped that out and shouldn't have.
  • Apr 17 2014: For me University helped me develop my persona, my character and my ability to deal effectively with wide variety of people.

    Having said that now a days what they deliver per dollar has gone down a lot. If you are smart you get lot. If you are average it is a loss. If you are challenged by the process it is a losing proposition.

    With new technology we can do lot with interactive education with the guidance, Cost has to reduce by 70 % to get more people educated and having a decent rate of return. It is needed for us to stay competitive,
  • Apr 16 2014: I think it depends upon the student. My children chose small private schools, giving up multiple scholarships, including scholarships covering everything. My son went to Harvey Mudd College and my daughter went to Carleton. They both are happy with their decisions and are doing well in their chosen careers.

    Could they have gotten as good as an education from a large university or from online? They would have the knowledge but it would have lacked the joy of the environment and interacting with students of equal or greater ability.
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      Apr 20 2014: Just curious - why do you think "it would have lacked the joy of the environment and interacting with students of equal or greater ability."
      • Apr 20 2014: It depends - with a small college it comes almost automatic due to the size. At a large university, it could be automatic but in most cases you have to push to find the groups and sometimes work to be integrated into that group. For example, I had to work to get into the film community because most of the others were in social science or art.

        On the question about interacting with students of equal or greater ability. Your freshman year, you are living with people who are very close in ability in small colleges (my son's roommate at HMC started as a freshman in linear algebra and almost all the students started with 2nd year calc or diff equations). It was very similar at Carleton for my daughter. I found that the range in my Freshman dorm at a large mid western public university was quite large and 25% did not make it to the end of the 1st year. In one sense, it was very disturbing.
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          Apr 21 2014: That all makes a lot of sense.

          At some small liberal arts colleges in the South (and I am most familiar with TN and GA), the students are actually at a lower level than at the state universities due to the HOPE program. TN and GA students go to state schools for close to free as long as they maintain credit hours and certain GPA's.) This has upped the incoming ACT's, etc. tremendously. Schools that were "fall back schools" 20 years ago are now very selective (more than many privates).