MAN: Every year I speak to young people such as yourselves about the difference between public and private university, and how to choose which way to go. Well, there’s no right answer, and I certainly don’t want to persuade you either way. But I do encourage people to be informed enough to make a decision that will best suit their individual educational needs.
Let’s first dispel some of the myths about private education. For one, people tend to think that private education is always higher quality. This is absolutely not true. Public universities can turn out just as good, and sometimes even better, research. And the quality of teaching is dependent on the individual professors, not on the university. In fact, I find that professors at private universities easily become complacent about teaching due to having such secure and prestigious tenured positions. Professors from public universities, even if they are tenured, tend to have to work harder to make a name for themselves. This benefits students greatly.
Myth number two is that only wealthy kids can get into private schools. Again, that’s far from the case. Grant you, over 60 percent of incoming freshman undergraduates are from upper-class families... Um, but there are still somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of students being admitted who were not rich growing up. They are accepted based on their academic qualifications, extracurricular activities, and demonstrated leadership skills.
The third and final myth I’d like to dispel is that only graduates of private schools will be successful. No, no and no. It’s actually the opposite. Employers often feel that graduates of elite universities are overqualified for their positions, so they choose applicants from less elite but still credible institutions. In fact, in talking with a colleague from Harvard University in the United States the other day, I found out that there is an increase in the rates of unemployment for Harvard graduates. Harvard graduates! Can you imagine?
Anyway, let’s move on from the myths and look at the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Um, let’s, let’s start with public education. As you can guess, public education is the more affordable option. Tuition is only a fraction of private schools. It’s also often, although not always, easier to get into. They accept a wider range of academic backgrounds, and usually have more students...meaning more places to offer. Another advantage of the higher student population is more diversity. For people wanting to expand their horizons, um, socially, public is the way to go. But on the other hand, you can’t deny that public universities are less prestigious. It’s also true that having more students results in less attention for each student from professors. So, there are definitely two sides to that coin.
For private universities, the obvious advantages are their excellent reputations and smaller class sizes. But private universities are also good if you play sports or are into extracurricular activities. All of that tuition money gets used to offer more non-academic activities to students. That’s why most any serious athlete will do anything they can to get into one of the Ivy League schools. But realistically, only the best of the best of them will get in because admissions criteria are so strict. You really need to be an achiever to go to the elite institutions. And that’s probably the biggest drawback.