Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The value of undergraduate education in public universities

High school seniors in the United States are now sending their applications to universities and they will soon face the problem of choosing between public and private colleges. This year seems to be different from others, as student loans were apparently among the first ones to suffer from the current financial crisis, despite being in many cases guaranteed by the government.

As private universities have typically suffered heavy losses in their endowments and are thus not expected to offer the level of tuition support of past years, students are expected to be more likely to accept offers from public universities. In fact, the latter already report much larger admission submissions than previous years.

At the undergraduate level, there is not much difference between public and private universities in terms of value added. Having taught in both, the variance of students is high in both, and I saw no notable difference in motivation. Teachers are better in elite universities, whether private or public, as teaching and research qualities are positively correlated.

Is it worth going private if one did not get into a public school? I would say no. Lower ranked private universities are not worth the price and the student debt. If a student could not make it to public university, he should not go to college at all, as I have argued before.

The quality of students in public schools may actually significantly increase for next year "thanks" to this crisis. And universities may want to accomodate this with increased enrollments. It would not be a good time for state governments to cut support to their universities.

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