Current Issues

Myths-Part II

Posted on December 11, 2008

This is the second in a series of related “myth versus reality” postings I’ve promised to provide from time to time.

Today, I take up the widely held notion that public colleges and universities serve poorer students while private colleges and universities like SNHU serve wealthier students.

There was some truth to this notion decades ago, but it is no longer the case.  Community colleges are certainly a more affordable option than most and they do an extraordinarily good job of providing access to higher education for many students who would be economically shut out.  However, when it comes to four-year institutions, private colleges and universities often serve lower-income students as well or better than their public peers.

Tuition at the publics is much lower than at privates, you might rightly point out. But, at private institutions students have access to more scholarship support (the average SNHU grant is over $8,000) and other financial aid, so today in America the public and private sectors serve students at all income levels at roughly the same proportion with two exceptions.  At the lowest end of the income scale (family incomes under $20,000) small private colleges serve students better than large public universities.  At the other end of the income scale, large public universities enroll a greater percentage of high income students (family incomes over $100,000), 25%, than do their private peers (22%).  For more details see

There’s more.  Students at private universities complete their degrees on time (in four years) at higher rates than their peers enrolled in public institutions (72% vs. 52%) and that means they are paying for fewer semesters of tuition and getting out into the job market more quickly.  Not only do students graduate more quickly, a higher percentage of them actually graduate period and for students of color there is a very wide gap in graduation rates (64% to 34% for African-American students; 76% to 39% for Hispanic students).

So consider this: the cost of educating a student at a public and private is roughly the same, but we privates do it more effectively (in terms of graduation rates), do it faster (in terms of time to completion), serve minority students far better, and use only a small portion, a very small portion, of taxpayer dollars. One way to address the question of access to higher education would be for states and the federal government to make a greater investment in independent or private colleges and universities.

If you know someone who is looking at a private institution like SNHU and they are scared off by the published cost, remind them that 90% of our students pay something less that number and receive financial aid.  We are as committed to access as our public university peers, we just do it differently and often better.

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