Private vs. Public Universities: Measuring the Differences

By Peter Ratzan, MBA….
Wide variations in Quality at Public schools and Steep Tuition Discounts at Private ones

Peter Ratzan

As the economy continues to teeter, budget cuts have forced difficult choices at our public universities. At our flagship school University of Florida, for example, dozens of popular courses are now offered primarily online. While this may thrill undergrads who prefer to sleep in, I assure you it is not done for the students’ convenience; rather these ‘distance classes’ can be delivered for a fraction of the cost of classes delivered face-to-face in a room filled with other students. Obviously, this raises a bunch of questions about the quality of the education being received. In fact, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that many students — particularly men – did notably worse without the nudge of having to attend class.

Contrast that with private universities where most classes are still taught by ‘live’ professors with low student-faculty ratios. Students enrolled in these schools benefit – academically and personally – well beyond graduation – from the faceto- face contact with instructors and fellow students.

In addition to the ‘ streaming professor’ problem, it’s also taking longer than four years for students to graduate from our public colleges. Four year graduation rates at our schools are atrocious. Even our ‘best’ 4-year graduation rate – owned by UF – is just 54%. Students at private universities graduate on average in 4.1 years – across the board.

But what about price, right? Well… while our in-state tuitions are rising at 15% per year, private schools tuitions are going on sale! And these fire sale prices aren’t just reserved for braniacs or special groups.

In fact, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, more than 82% of students attending private colleges and universities are capturing tuition discounts via the financial aid process.

So, just who are the families who get these discounts?

36% of the scholarship money goes to students who needed financial help.

41.5% of the scholarship cash goes to affluent students, who didn’t need the assistance.

22.5% of the scholarship pot on students who had a partial financial need.

My partner and I have been saying this, broken record-style, for years. Why don’t parents apply for financial aid? Put another way, why do 40% of all eligible families not bother to apply?

One reason is intimidation. You “need a PhD” to figure out the FAFSA, according to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The forms are annoying and a pain the in the rump, with multiple land-mines to stumble on and blow up all chances of aid.

Another reason is that parents put off their college planning until it’s too late. The best time to start the college planning process is the second half of sophomore year, junior year at the latest.

So, do yourself and your children a favor and take time to research the financial aid process before your children apply to schools. There are plenty of great resources at your disposal to do so ( is a great site to start).

In addition, I offer free community workshops on college funding throughout South Florida.. Topics include: How even millionaires can save 20% off the cost of college; Think you make too much money to qualify for financial aid? You’re probably wrong, dead wrong! And, Can you legally “position” yourself to receive more financial aid? More information is available at:

Peter Ratzan is the co-owner of College Funding Specialists, Inc. and the coauthor of the Never Pay Retail For College Financial Aid Maximization System. He and his partner Andy Lockwood, JD, have offices in Weston, Miami and Long Island, NY.

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