What Are the Advantages of Attending Public Colleges?

While many students choose public universities over private schools for financial reasons, public colleges have other advantages as well. Accessibility and acceptance rates are other major pros of public universities.

Public Colleges Overview

The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that the U.S. had 4,583 degree-granting public schools as of the 2015-16 academic year. Of these, 3,004 were classified as 4-year schools, while 1,579 were 2-year schools.

The NCES reported that almost 7 million students were expected to attend 2-year public colleges in fall 2018. It also showed about 13.3 million students would enroll in public 4-year schools that same term.

Important Facts About Public Colleges

Degree Levels Associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees available
Prerequisites Varies, depending upon institution and intended program of enrollment; most bachelor's degree programs require a high school diploma, or equivalent
Concentrations English, international politics, marketing, nursing, economics, political science, business, accounting, health policy and administration
Online Availability Full programs available

Tuition Cost

Public schools almost always have less expensive tuition than private institutions, according to a recent College Board study. In 2018-19, the average tuition and fees for in-state residents at a public 4-year university for one year were $10,230, compared to $35,830 for those attending a private 4-year university.

Once room and board was factored in, in-state students at public schools paid an average of $21,370, which was significantly lower than the $48,510 paid by those at private schools. For many students and families, that difference is significant enough to sway their decision about where to attend. Unlike private schools, public universities receive government funding, which keeps tuition lower.


Some public universities are more accessible than private schools because they have multiple campuses. This makes attendance convenient for students in varying locations. Major public colleges usually have a flagship campus, in addition to multiple satellite campuses all over the state. Each state has at least one public university bearing its name, while some larger states have nearly 30.

Admissions Criteria

Both private and public universities can be academically competitive, but traditionally, private schools are more exclusive and have stricter admissions requirements. For students who don't have especially high grade-point averages or test scores, a public university might be the best fit.

However, even though private schools have been historically considered the most prestigious, many public schools have become increasingly well known for their high academic standards. In fact, the term 'Public Ivies' was coined in 1985 to refer to eight public universities that offered an Ivy League experience at a public college cost. Among these schools were:

  • The University of California
  • The University of Michigan
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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