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More Rich Students Pick Public Colleges Simply, It’s Less Expensive Than Private Universities

Associated Press

More affluent students - or maybe their price-conscious parents - are abandoning private colleges in favor of their cheaper, public counterparts, researchers said.

The big, brand-name schools such as Harvard and Princeton still pack in the well-to-do. But smaller, four-year private liberal arts schools are increasingly losing their full-paying customers to public universities, according to The Student Aid Game, a book to be published in November.

Its authors said private colleges will adapt, but poorer students at public schools may not fare as well.

“The idea was always that you would create these great institutions that would then be accessible to anybody who had the motivation and talent to go. That kind of fundamental promise of higher education is really being thrown into question,” said co-author Michael McPherson, president of the private Macalester College in St. Paul.

McPherson and co-author Morton Schapiro found that about 38 percent of college freshman from the richest families enrolled in public institutions in 1994, compared with 31 percent in 1980. The richest families were those making more than $200,000 a year.

For upper-middle income families - those who earned between $100,000 and $200,000 - freshman enrollment at public schools rose to 48 percent in 1994 from 42 percent in 1980, they found.

Part of the draw of public schools is the cheaper cost. Consumers also are making less of a distinction in the relative quality of public and private educations, partly because of the acceptance of well-publicized “best-buy” guides, McPherson said.

Money magazine’s annual college ratings due out in September, for example, rank the University of Florida 80 notches above Dartmouth as a best buy.

But as more affluent families flock toward public universities, states end up subsidizing wealthier students. Onaverage, a state subsidizes each student by about $12,000 a year, no matter how much their parents earn.

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