Public Universities Should Stop Going Private

Oct 27, 2011

State funding to public universities has been on a steady decline for over a decade, and recent economic hardships have only exacerbated the issue. That's left schools struggling to find ways to fill that revenue gap. For some, like California's vaunted public university system, that means adopting the tactics of private schools. But is this the right move?

View popular schools

By Eric Garneau

money

Tight Pocketbooks

In January 2011, California governor Jerry Brown proposed a $1.4 billion cut to the state's higher education budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. While significant on its own, that's far from an isolated incident - although the 2010-2011 budget gave a small boost to funding for higher education, the year before it saw another massive cut of $637 million, a 20% reduction overall. Clearly California's famed public university system can't really depend on any kind of consistency when it comes to state funding.

That's caused schools in California's public system to embrace a different method of obtaining revenue, one that more closely mirrors the strategies used by their private competitors. That could mean bad news for students, who've faced unprecedented tuition raises in the past few years - according to a September 2011 editorial in The Economist, this is the first year that in-state students will pay for a larger share of their public education than the state itself does. Out-of-state students are hit even harder; it's not uncommon for them to pay as much at a public school outside their own state as they would at a private institution.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Agriculture
  • Architecture
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Business
  • Communications and Journalism
  • Computer Sciences
  • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Legal
  • Liberal Arts and Humanities
  • Mechanic and Repair Technologies
  • Medical and Health Professions
  • Physical Sciences
  • Psychology
  • Transportation and Distribution
  • Visual and Performing Arts

Mistaken Identity

The problem with this scenario, as many commentators have pointed out, is that when public schools start to price students out, they lose the idea that those schools are meant to provide a public good. As The Economist puts it, California's initial goal with their massive public higher education system was to give state residents 'nearly universal and free access' to a college education. Now, those same students can expect to pay about $13,000 a year for that education, not counting room and board.

In response, some universities have sought to shuffle off the coils of state control altogether. One such example is UCLA's business school, the Anderson Graduate School of Management, which has proposed forgoing all state funding. The school would then be free to control itself completely, not needing to worry about state guidelines when structuring its curriculum or policies. It would also be free, of course, to raise tuition as its administrators saw fit. Supporters of what would essentially be its privatization, however, argue that tuition changes could be more 'predictable' without state interference - and given the state's ever-fluctuating education budget, they may have a point.

Other proponents of privatization note that their universities could still provide significant subsidies to in-state students to help keep education a public good. Miami of Ohio undertook such a move when they adopted private university pricing in the early part of the 2000s - in 2004, their base tuition was $19,642 per year, though Ohio residents received scholarships of at least $10,000 each (from Businessweek, November 2004). Similarly, California university officials stress that in-state residents would still receive a tuition break for attending a state university, regardless of any price hikes.

What Does It Mean?

But, after all, a price increase is a price increase, and for many would-be college students, money is no simple matter. When Businessweek reported on the trend of public flagship schools adopting private college methods in 2004, they related the disturbing statistic that among the most selective schools in the country (including those flagships), 74% of incoming freshmen came from the top economic quarter of society, while only three percent came from the bottom. If public schools are meant to be democractic institutions, their pricing out students would only take them further from their mission. On the other hand, schools are themselves put in a tough situation when state funding dries up. Money's got to come from somewhere - ideally, however, it would come from some place that wasn't always the students themselves.

Maybe state university funding isn't in so dire a situation after all.

Next: View Schools

What is your highest level of education?

Some College
Complete your degree or find the graduate program that's right for you.
High School Diploma
Explore schools that offer bachelor and associate degrees.
Still in High School
Earn your diploma or GED. Plan your undergraduate education.

Schools you may like:

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

    • MA in Communication
    • Master of Liberal Arts
    • MA in Science Writing
    • MS in Applied Economics
    • MS in Geographic Information Systems
    • MS in Bioinformatics

    What is your highest level of education?

    • BA: Criminal Justice
    • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
    • BA: Liberal Studies
    • BA: Psychology
    • BA: Psychology - General
    • BS: Computer Science
    • AA: Criminal Justice
    • AA: Liberal Arts
    • AA: Business Administration
    • AA: Information Technology
    • AA: Cybersecurity

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Master of Science in Finance
    • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management
    • Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Master of Science in Nursing - Doctor of Nursing Practice Path, Executive Leader Specialization
    • Doctor of Nursing Practice
    • Master of Science in Nursing - Doctor of Nursing Practice Path
    • MS in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
    • Master of Science in Legal Studies
    • MS in Psychology
    • MBA
    • Master of Public Health
    • MBA - Human Resources
    • BS in Liberal Studies
    • BS in Business Administration
    • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Investment Career Focus Area
    • BS in Liberal Studies Leadership
    • BS in Nutrition Science
    • BSFIN in Accelerated MS Finance
    • AAS in Business Administration - Business
    • AAS in Legal Support and Services
    • AAS in Business Administration
    • AAS in Business Administration - Food & Hotel Management
    • AAS in Business Admin-Office Management
    • AAS in Criminal Justice
    • Medical Office Administration Certificate
    • Human Services Certificates in Child and Family Services
    • Graduate Certificate in Addictions
    • Graduate Certificate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
    • Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate
    • Pathway to Paralegal Postbaccalaureate Certificate

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Doctor of Business Administration - Management
    • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
    • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Special Education
    • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
    • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Industrial and Organizational Psychology
    • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
    • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors
    • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
    • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
    • MS in Psychology: General Psychology
    • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
    • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
    • BS in Psychology
    • B.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance and Sports Psychology
    • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
    • BS in Early Childhood
    • BS in Elementary Education / Special Education (Dual Major)

    What is your highest level of education?

    • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
    • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
    • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences
    • MSHS in Translational Microbiology
    • MA in Education and Human Development in Secondary Special Education and Transition Services
    • MA in Education and Human Development in Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners
    • BSHS in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management
    • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences
    • BSHS in Biomedical Informatics

    What is your highest level of education?

    • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Administration
    • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Educaiton
    • RN to BSN

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Collision Repair and Refinish Technology
    • Marine Technician Specialist
    • Diesel Technology
    • Motorcycle Technician Specialist
    • Automotive Technology
    • NASCAR Technology

    What is your education level?

  • What is your highest level of education?

    • Doctor of Education - Character Education
    • Doctor of Education - Curriculum & Instruction
    • Doctor of Education - Higher Education
    • Ph.D. in Communication
    • Ph.D. in Education - Character Education
    • Ph.D. in Education - Curriculum & Instruction
    • Master of Arts in Communication
    • Master of Arts in Communication - Political Communication
    • Master of Arts in Communication - Strategic Communication
    • Master of Arts in Government - Political Communication
    • Master of Arts in Journalism
    • Master of Arts in Law - Business
    • Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
    • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies
    • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Journalism
    • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Rhetoric and Public Culture
    • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Strategic Communication
    • Bachelor of Arts in English - Communication
    • M.Ed. - Individualized Degree Program - Autism Certificate
    • M.Ed. in K-12 Special Education - Autism Certificate

    What is your highest level of education completed?

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?