Only five percent strongly agree and 38% agree with the statement “that high-cost colleges are generally of higher quality.” Additionally, we see that 63% of the respondents strongly agree or agree with the statement that “colleges and universities could reduce their costs without hurting the quality of the institution.”

On the other hand, 41% of the respondents believe the quality of education is better at private colleges and universities with only 13% saying publics were better. Nearly four of ten (38%) said the education at public and private institutions was about the same.   When asked “if money were not an issue, would you rather have your child attend a private or public university?” 45% said private, 25% said public and 28% said it didn’t matter.

Observations and Recommendations

Here is the positive side of this information. Independent colleges and universities are viewed by many as having higher quality, yet fewer than 20% of the college students of today are enrolled in private colleges and universities. Clearly for many, the sole reason for choosing a public institution is cost. Describing how your institution is affordable early in the student recruitment process is critical, but be sure to remind the prospective student that one must often pay more for quality. Also, talk about affordability in your publicity and public relations efforts.

The negative side is the belief that high price at colleges does not indicate higher quality, and, in fact, the majority of the public thinks that all colleges could reduce their costs if they wanted. In our view the key to justifying higher cost is to demonstrate higher value. As stated above, many see the residential experience as a very important part of the college experience, yet few institutions with which we are familiar show how they “intentionally” deliver important skills and experience through their extracurricular and residential life programs. Admittedly, many of these value-added experiences happen even if they are not intentional, but to demonstrate value, an institution has to have programs that ensure all, or at least most, students benefit. Another form of demonstrating intention is by recognizing kinds of learning that take place outside the classroom. This may include certificates that demonstrate some kind of accomplishment (leadership, for example) or simply a “personal and professional development portfolio.” Private institutions must show they are providing much more than a credential if they expect to thrive in the future.

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