public vs private college tuition
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Public Versus Private College Tuition — What's the Difference?


Sep. 16 2020, Updated 2:27 p.m. ET

The tuition at a public college is always cheaper compared to a private college. Does the higher tuition have to do with prestige or are their other hidden costs? Does the higher tuition enhance the private college experience enough to warrant the extra money?

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public versus private colleges tuition
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What are the differences between public and private colleges?

The main differences between public and private colleges have to do with how the schools are funded. State schools are funded and heavily subsidized by the federal government. They can use the funding in times of need. Public colleges also have the benefit of being eligible for financial aid. 

Private colleges tend to be smaller, religiously run, and supported by endowments funds and private donors. They rely heavily on student tuition in terms of operating costs compared to public colleges. There's also the prestige factor with private colleges. You aren't just paying for your tuition. You're paying for the college's name to be embossed upon your diploma, which carries significant weight and cost. 

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What is the average tuition for public versus private colleges?

The cost of tuition and fees is usually higher at private colleges. Most of the student body is often made up of the wealthiest and most highly-connected students. Many lower to middle-class students choose to go to public colleges instead. 

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As of 2019, the average cost for a student to attend a private college was about $35,676. The number was significantly higher than the average tuition at public colleges, which was $9,716 for in-state students and $21,629 for out-of-state students.

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Choosing a public versus a private college

Tuition impacts many students' college selection. Even if a student wants to go to a certain private college, the financial aspect has to be considered. 

There's an assumption that just because a public university is more affordable than a private college, it's the only option. Public colleges and universities don't always offer the best education based on the cost of enrollment. Some medium-sized private universities may actually be a better solution than simply choosing the cheapest college available.

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Private colleges offer some awards and discounts

Scholarships and grants have always been available for exceptional students and athletes. Awards can help offset higher costs associated with attending a private college, but not everyone is eligible. 

In recent years, a number of college administrators have offered tuition discounts to attract more students. The price cuts and the myriad benefits offered by these institutions aren't always enough to offset the price difference between private and public colleges. Even with significant discounts, students still pay more to go to private colleges compared to public colleges.


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