Ivy League Schools vs. Public Ivies


Ivy League Schools vs. Public Ivies


The prestigious U.S. Ivy League colleges have long been the traditional choice for students seeking a top-notch education.

According to a  U.S. News & World Report  “Ivy League schools are considered the most sought-after institutions of higher learning in the country and around the world. These eight private Northeast schools are known for their highly selective admissions process, academic excellence, and promising career opportunities for those who attend. The name recognition and social prestige don’t hurt either.”

Yet with acceptance rates for the class of 2022 ranging from 4.6% (Harvard) to 10.3% (Cornell), admission to these universities is extremely competitive. Then there’s the cost of attendance. On average, the annual undergraduate tuition and fees for the Ivies in 2018 was $54,404.

Luckily a new kind of “Ivies” has risen to meet the challenge of the high demand for an Ivy league education: the Public Ivy schools.

What Are the Public Ivies?

Richard Moll, author of Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities created the phrase in 1985. Using his experience as director of admissions at multiple universities, Moll challenged himself to identify eight public universities that matched the caliber of Ivy League schools.

The original Public Ivy list in 1985 was composed of:

  • College of William & Mary
  • Miami University
  • University of California
  • University of Michigan
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Virginia  

He also created an additional list of nine runners-up.

Are those all the Public Ivies?

Fortunately, no.

An updated list of Public Ivies was created in 2001 in The Public Ivies: America’s Flagship Public Universities. This list of Public Ivy colleges now includes 30 institutions in five regions of the US:


  • Pennsylvania State University (University Park)
  • Rutgers University (New Brunswick)
  • State University of New York at Binghamton
  • University of Connecticut (Storrs)


  • University of Delaware (Newark)
  • University of Maryland (College Park)
  • College of William & Mary (Williamsburg)
  • University of Virginia (Charlottesville)


  • University of Florida (Gainesville)
  • University of Georgia (Athens)
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Texas at Austin


  • University of Arizona (Tucson)
  • University of California (Berkeley)
  • University of California (Davis)
  • University of California (Irvine)
  • University of California (Los Angeles)
  • University of California (San Diego)
  • University of California (Santa Barbara)
  • University of Colorado (Boulder)
  • University of Washington (Seattle)

Great Lakes and Midwest 

  • Indiana University (Bloomington)
  • Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
  • Michigan State University (East Lansing)
  • The Ohio State University (Columbus)
  • University of Illinois (Urbana–Champaign), University of Iowa (Iowa City)
  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)
  • University of Minnesota (Minneapolis–Saint Paul)
  • University of Wisconsin (Madison)

Advantages of Public Ivies

The most apparent advantage of these schools is obvious: cost.

The cost of attendance at a Public Ivy school is significantly lower than that of an Ivy League school (particularly for in-state students), but don’t let that mislead you. Lower cost does not mean less quality. In fact, the Public Ivies are also known for their academic rigor and admissions criteria.

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reports that Public Ivies are “successfully competing with the Ivy League schools in academic rigor … attracting superstar faculty and in competing for the best and brightest students of all races.”

While admissions rates at Ivy League schools currently range from 4.6% at Harvard to 10.3% at Cornell, the admissions rates at Public Ivies are higher. In fact, the original 8 Public Ivies current admissions rates range from 16% at UCLA to 68% at  Miami University


Public Ivies vs. the Original Ivies

The answer depends a lot on the student and their educational and personal goals. The methods used in the rankings of colleges can be complicated, since statistics are formulated by various institutions using different methods.  Not to mention that other variables factor in.

For instance, if a student wants to be a teacher, must they attend Yale? Would the University of Delaware suffice instead? Would a student who wants to be a fine artist have a better education if they attend UCLA vs. University of Iowa?

Probably not. However, they might have a different or better experience at one school versus the other.

But name should not be the sole deciding factor. Some of the basics to look at during the decision process would include:

  • SAT and ACT scores of incoming students
  • High school GPA scores
  • Acceptance rates
  • Alumni donations
  • Student-to-faculty ratio
  • Graduation rate
  • Financial aid
  • Transfer rate, also known as student retention
  • Average class size
  • Quality of faculty, measured by factors including research grants awarded and the frequency of publications

One aspect is difficult to measure in terms of usefulness: the prestige factor of the Ivy League schools. In other words, it’s hard to determine the perceived value of their names and whether an Ivy League degree can affect future employment.

Should You Go to a Public Ivy?

The decision to apply to an Ivy League or to a Public Ivy must be weighed by creating an extensive list of the factors the student prefers in a school. For instance, your student should look at: 

  • Academic programs
  • Flexibility of majors and minors
  • Academic staff
  • Alumni involvement
  • Graduation rates
  • Financial aid and alumni giving
  • Location
  • Housing options and availability

Remember that the Public Ivies are performing in ways similar to the Ivies in practical academics. Additionally, they continue to grow their reputation and prominence, making them more desirable schools.  

One challenge does exist for the Public Ivies more than it does for the Ivies though – funding. This Washington Post article takes a look at this potential problem within the Public Ivies. So this is definitely something to consider when considering a public Ivy

Putting It All Together

The Public Ivies continue to provide many students with enviable educations that leave a much lighter debt burden than attendance at an Ivy League college.

In making the final decision, students and parents should compare their list of desired criteria against current and up-to-date information provided not only by the media, but on the individual university websites as well.

Do your due diligence. Examine the programs, the instructors, the curriculum, and the courses. Get a feel for the personality of the school.

Research housing options, libraries, cafeterias, events, student culture, and support.

After all this, compare the overall cost of attendance against your desired criteria and you’ll have a much better feel for which schools – whether Ivy, Public Ivy, or other – are best for your student.








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