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Friday, October 19, 2018

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Public universities are just as good as private ones


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/ user: BrianReading

 

During a time in which tuition for private universities is at an all-time high and college admissions criteria are increasingly strict, public institutions offer something unique.

Due to an increasingly global market and a seemingly ever-decreasing number of career opportunities, more and more emphasis is being placed upon receiving not just a college education, but an elite college education. What does it mean for a college to be ‘elite’?

Criteria for such a descriptor varies depending on who you ask (or which college insider blog you’re reading).

A quick look through high ranking universities will reveal a few common denominators: tuition around or over $50,000, undergraduate enrollment under 10,000, and – though there have been great strides made to compensate for this fact – historically dominated by white male students from high-income households.

Though these elite schools offer a good education and a multitude of career opportunities for students, these institutions should not necessarily be considered the pinnacle of higher education.

These institutions will soon begin to hold less weight in the public sphere due to the democratization of resources and opportunities and the amplification of groups historically underrepresented at elite private universities. This includes students from marginalized racial or ethnic groups, women, ex-convicts and low-income individuals.

A local example

Even Rice, an institution that’s known for its prestige and cost existing in equal measure, recently enacted a new financial aid plan offering full tuition scholarships to undergraduates whose family income falls between $65,000 and $130,000.

Of course, even this comes with a certain benefit to the university: with these new measures, the number of applicants is bound to rise, resulting in an inevitable drop in the acceptance rate, making Rice an even more exclusive institution. This will narrow down the future student body to, generally, the pool of applicants with the highest test scores, cleanest records, and best essays.

While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it does further limit the admissions pool to those applicants who were able to invest the most time, energy and monetary resources into their high school careers.

The very real and lived experiences of the hundreds of students set to benefit from this development in coming semesters should not be ignored. No matter the potential self-interest behind the decision, it sets an excellent precedent that other private institutions will hopefully feel pressured to match.

However, more affordable public institutions, such as the University of Houston, have not needed to make significant adjustments to remain cost-friendly and inclusive.

In being inclusive and lower cost, UH doesn’t suffer from either consequence of Rice’s exclusivity, neither the financial cost of education nor the limited range of accepted students.

UH’s strength lies in what some rival schools might view as the University’s  weak point: accessibility.

Due to having a high acceptance rate and relatively low tuition, UH is able to provide resources to a wider scope of diverse students. This diversity is not simply in racial or ethnic terms, but also in terms of life experience. The University is able to do this while maintaining its status as a Tier One public research university.

Students like myself who have had abnormal academic journeys are given the tools to rebuild from the ground up and define themselves not by their past, but their future.

Everyone here has a life before and beyond this campus, and it’s palpable. This comes with drawbacks. UH is consequentially a commuter campus, resulting in terrible parking and the campus becoming a ghost town on weekends. However, there is a magic to that vast array of student experiences that individuals may not find at an elite private university.

As private universities become more costly and exclusive, universities like the University of Houston offer hope that a balance of high-quality education and accessibility is both achievable and sustainable.

Opinion columnist Adison Eyring is a media productions and political science sophomore and can be reached at [email protected]

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