Private vs. public: does it make a difference?

December 6, 2011  

By Bethany Suba
bsuba@smu.edu

Shelby Stall transferred to the University of North Texas after her freshman year at the University of Alabama. The out of state tuition for Alabama was getting too expensive for Stall and staying wasn’t worth the student loans.

Stall would have remained at the University of Alabama if tuition had been lower, but she doesn’t think the prestige of a university necessarily makes or breaks a person’s ability to find employment after graduation. Alabama is ranked No. 75 among national universities by U.S. News and World Report, while UNT isn’t ranked.

“For the cost, if you can’t afford it I wouldn’t say to take loans out for it,” Stall said.
No one wants to spend more money than necessary, and with headlines reporting that student loan debt is now exceeding credit card debt, people are rethinking how they spend their money.
Many people are led to believe that attending a university that costs more and has a more prestigious name will be more beneficial.

“When you’re fresh out of school a lot of companies look at where you graduated,” Marva McGrew, the assistant director for employer relations at SMU, said. “But many companies are just looking for what is the best fit for the position.”

According to the College Board, the price of a four-year public university has increased by an average of 8.3 percent this past year. A four-year private university increased by an average of only 4.5 percent.

However, the average cost to attend a private university is $27, 293 whereas a public university costs $7,605 for an instate student and $11, 990 for an out of state student.
Two out of three employers interviewed believe that the prestige of a private university can help students looking for employment after they graduate. But all three agree that it is the connections you make through networking that give any student the upper hand.

Gene McLean is the area manager of the South for Aspen Medical Products, a company that designs and sells upper and lower spinal orthotics. He believes that the extra dollar spent on a private university education can help get your foot in the door, but that it is not the determining factor for getting hired.

“I think that what SMU or TCU, what those types of universities give you, above and beyond student loans, is a good network,” McLean said.
One employer at a major company says the specifics of what a school offers can be more important than its relative prestige.

“The other day we did actually choose someone based on the fact that UNT has a great logistics program,” Jackie Kimberling, the vice president of logistics and indirect procurement at RadioShack, said.

When comparing the UNT applicant to other applicants from more prestigious universities, the deciding factor was that the UNT logistics program was a better program.

The one employer who had a different view on the subject was Jim McMain. McMain is the human resources director of Tyler Technologies and he says that he only goes to public universities to find future employees.

“To us the quality of the education, that is not a big enough issue,” McMain said.
He says that there is no institutional bias either way; he is still looking at good schools, but he has found that public universities have a larger pool of candidates to choose from and for him it is a numbers game.

McMain does say that if a student from a private university were to contact him he would definitely take the student into consideration, but he is not going to seek private university students out.

Depending on what you can pay, and are willing to pay, there are benefits to both types of education. Public universities have more students and therefore more alumni. If students use their resources and network with the right people they should not have a disadvantage.

On the other hand, Kimberling believes that private universities support the job search process a lot better. And reference letters from smaller universities, which are usually private, tend to be more influential to employers because they expect students and professors to have a closer relationship at those schools.

As far as whether or not students should choose a private or a public university, “It’s a personal choice,” McGrew said.

Tuition Private 4- year Public 4-year All institutions
2006-2007 $28,919 $12,797 $18,471
2007-2008 $30,778 $13,429 $19,323
2008-2009 $32,090 $14,262 $20,385
2009-2010 $32,790 $15,014 $21,189

 

The increase in private four-year institutions from 2006 to 2010 is $3,871; at public four-year universities it is $2,217; and overall it is $2,718. This information is off the National Center for Education Statistics.

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