Public Versus Private Colleges

College Success Bulletin

Last week, I was reminded how I STILL get it wrong sometimes.

I spend a lot of time at workshops and with clients discussing how the cost of a private college can often be close to, or occasionally less than, the cost to attend a public university, even in-state universities.

Most parents I speak to are very interested, sometimes surprised, by this.  They care for all of the reasons you’d think: private colleges and universities are usually more prestigious, their class sizes are smaller, the graduation rates are better, etc.

I present this information because I know it’s interesting.  But sometimes I feel like I’m advocating, pushing people to choose private colleges for these reasons – even though I don’t feel like private schools are always the way to go.  Really, I have nothing against state schools – I know dozens of highly successful people who graduated from state and city colleges.

So there I was, in the office, examining this couple’s tax returns, savings, value of their house, all sorts of stuff.  This family was like most of my clients – they made in the low 200K range, and had a house with equity, a decent amount of money tucked away in retirement savings, and another 250K-plus in accounts for them and their two kids.  And I was getting excited, because it became clear that I could be REALLY valuable:

  • I could help them go from paying “full boat” at most of the private colleges on their list to getting 20-25K off per year
  • I could help them choose great schools, not just for the money, but also from a strategic and “best fit” perspective

I explained all this (smugly, i’m afraid), and sat back and waited for their response, practically patting myself on the back.

You mean private colleges will still cost us 8K more per year?  the mom said.

I paused.

Well, yes, but when you consider that state universities are jacking up tuition and cutting costs, graduation rates and intangibles like smaller class sizes, I think you’d be smart to consider supplementing your list with some private colleges, I said.

That’s still a lot of money, she said.

And she was right. 8K is a lot of money.  Besides, who am I to tell her, or anyone, how to spend her money?

She pointed out that her boys were good, not great students – they had solid B averages – and wasn’t sure that their academic performance warranted spending extra money on them.  I could have made the argument that, perhaps, an environment with smaller class sizes, more professor contact, etc. would lead to better learning, but that’s not my role.

My job, as I see it, is two-fold:

  • To advise parents how to save money on college costs. Sometimes I can help with public and private colleges, sometimes with only private schools.  My advice enables them to have more money for frivolous, crazy things like retiring, or paying off a mortgage, wack-a-doo stuff like that.  🙂
  • To coach students through a transitional period between high school and college, so that they are well-prepared for not just the next four years, but also the 40 thereafter.

I may have certain biases, such as the education afforded by small, liberal arts colleges, but I’m glad that these guys reminded me that it’s not really about what I think.

You know your children better than I or anyone else could ever get to know them.  You – and your kids – are in the driver’s seat when it comes to figuring out how to position them best to succeed.  Sometimes private schools are best, sometimes they’re not.

Your Correspondent,

– Andy Lockwood

P.S.  Want to pick my brain about YOUR, ahem, college plan (You have one, right?)?  I’m opening up two more slots for 20 minute phone consults.  This is a bargain, when you consider that my customary consulting rate is $450 for a (satisfaction guaranteed) one-hour sit-down.  The difference is I won’t prepare ahead of time for the phone consult (I review your personal informaiton in advance of the one-hour session) and I will be able to give you only limited advice, but it will still be worthwhile for you, in my not-so-humble opinion.  I expect these slots to fill up quickly, so beat the buzzer and book now!

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