The disparities in perceived academic might and achievement between public and private higher education may be diminishing as more public institutions, including the University of Michigan, try to compete with top private schools.
The University attracts students with its academic reputation, faculty and facilities whether they are looking for an Ivy League school or a public university, said Ted Spencer, director of undergraduate admissions.
“We are a great institution. We can compete with Ivy League schools for all the right reasons, and that’s based on more than a feel-good attitude,” he said.
While University admission processes enroll 5,000 undergraduate students a year, private institutions enroll less than 500 students on average, Spencer said. The chances of getting into the University are higher, which he said is very attractive to students.
But for some students, the lower acceptance rate of private institutions is more appealing because it creates a more competitive class, said Henrik Dullea, vice president for university relations at Cornell University.
“Most schools in the public sector are larger than Cornell, and that affects the student profile,” Dullea said.
A common misconception in the competition between the Ivies and the University is the fear of getting lost in a school of larger size. But there is not necessarily more student-faculty contact at a private university, said Chris Lucier, University of Michigan associate director of undergraduate admissions. He said undergraduate schools like Harvard College have introductory classes that are equally large as those here.
“With the living-learning community, you can build your own community” at the University, Lucier said. “You can get a personalized experience.”
In terms of faculty, Dullea said highly ranked public institutions and Ivy League schools have been competing for many decades.
“Competition from faculty comes from a particular discipline. There are many outstanding faculty in the public universities – like Michigan – that are highly competitive with schools in the Ivy League,” Dullea said.
One benefit of public education is lower tuition fees, Spencer said, adding that the University offers one of the best financial aid packages of the Big Ten schools.
“The cost of value is important, particularly to in-state students who would pay three times more for a private institution,” he said.
Dullea said Cornell University emphasizes that alumni provide ample financial support to their students. 15 percent of all Cornell students receive grants.
“Support can make up the significant difference of the sticker-price of the institution and a public university,” he said.
Spencer said the University’s social life and college-town atmosphere also attract many applicants.
“There are so many things to do in Ann Arbor. It is a very unique town with everything in close proximity to the campus,” he said.
In surveys, many students respond that one of the top reasons they come to the University is Big Ten athletics. Ivy League schools do not compete in the same level of athletics,] Spencer said.
“It’s being part of something bigger than yourself – academics as well as athletics,” Spencer said.
The University provides its students with career or job opportunities after graduation, Spencer said. He added that a high percentage of graduates continue on to law or medical school.
“The period (University) students spend after graduation until employment is considerably shorter than other schools,” Spencer said.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also shares a desire to compete with Ivy League schools, said Matthew Kupec, vice chancellor for university advancement at the school.
“We consider Chapel Hill one the true great public universities along with the University of Michigan, University of Virginia, University of California at Los Angeles and University of California at Berkeley,” he said.
Kupec said private universities do not compete directly with Chapel Hill because they do not depend on state funding, while Chapel Hill does. Instead, Chapel Hill looks toward top-tier public universities for competition, though its students and faculty are also recruited by Ivies.
“These are very tough, difficult times right now with state budgets in deficit. We are very fortunate in North Carolina because public education is so well funded,” Kupec said. “We received $400 million in state appropriations, but that is still less than 30 percent of budget.”