May 1 is the usual deadline for sending in your official acceptance to a college. You should have your aid packages in hand and be ready to choose a school soon. But, what is the best choice for the next four years?
Public Universities have been a great deal for most students for years. They have a very ethical mission to educate their state’s students, including lower and middle income students. They are generally cheaper in cost, averaging from $7,000 to $10,000. Their sports programs are big and varied, their campuses are large and offer lots of activities, and their student populations are more diverse.
But, public universities have fallen on difficult economic times. As their students’ families have to deal with tougher economic climates, these universities are digging deeper into their pockets to protect students from large tuition rate increases. At the same time any endowments or investments they have had have been hit hard, and their state’s contributions have declined. The stimulus monies from the federal government are only a temporary fix. Some of the better known campuses that are in economic difficulty are the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Florida, and the University of Michigan. Although all campuses in a state’s university system are hard hit, the flagship campuses are the worst hit.
These difficult economic times have meant more competition for enrollment at public schools as students herd from more expensive schools either in application or in transfer and as non-state tuition sources look very good to a university that is struggling financially. At the same time public universities are making cuts to classes and programs. Some of these cuts have been as high as 10%.
What does all this mean to you? With fewer course offerings, academic life can be hard. Students can not always get their general requirements in, and majors are having a difficult time finding advanced classes to meet their credit requirements. Some students have had to add a semester or a year to get their degrees, at a larger cost to them. Campus life has suffered, and dorms are getting crowded. Some campuses have even had to house an overflow of students at off-campus sites like hotels and shuttle them in, making it harder and harder for students to have timely access to classes and to libraries. Universities, which have been long under priced, are also having to raise tuition rates at steeper rates than private schools that have raised their tuition regularly. Students may find their first-year costs much different from their senior year costs now.
Universities are a very good choice, but in this economy, make sure to weigh what may happen down the road over your entire college stint to choose well. Sometimes a private college may be the best deal.