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Can privately administered colleges and universities in the USA and the UK successfully run without government (either state or federal) funding?

By "government funding," I mean any kind of money coming from a US state or the federal government that hinders the institution from implementing its own set of rules.

Related:

  1. https://law.stackexchange.com/q/101381/32068
  2. https://law.stackexchange.com/q/101491/32068
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  • Just the first site on Google: usafacts.org/articles/… - in 2018 about $100B was for student aid (scholarship, work-study, loans), then grants (NSF, NIH, etc.), and a bit for contracts (I have contracts with universities from my national lab group).
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Mar 20 at 12:18
  • Short answer is yes for the USA. I've provided a list as my answer. A great follow-up questions is why?... Commented Mar 20 at 13:08
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    Define funding. Many U.S. colleges, very famous ones among them, are private institutions. Many of them perform research for the government, like for any other entity (but could likely survive with only private research). Do you consider that federal funding? Many students receive federal aid; do you consider that federal funding? Most (even private) colleges are tax-exempt; do you consider that federal funding? Commented Mar 20 at 19:53
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica I took this to be any federal funding. But, yes, it is unclear. Commented Mar 20 at 20:33
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica, ah, you have a German perspective. I have a US perspective. Most "private" US schools fit your definition. However, there are some schools that do not want ANY federal funding i nthe US. And yes, these people want to get rid of food stamps, public transportation (e.g., city busses, Amtrak), and at least decrease funding to street (some libertarians want all roads to be toll roads). In the US, there are some schools that forgot any federal funding to avoid federal rules that happen to include anti-discrimination laws. Commented Mar 20 at 21:16

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Yes. There are some colleges/universities (in the US, I do not know about the UK) that do not accept federal fundings due to their belief and principles. These institutions are the "counter-example" that proves the rule of why most institutions do accept federal fundings.

Dean Clancy maintains a list. Here is his list as of March 2024:

  • Aletheia Christian College (Idaho)
  • Bethlehem College & Seminary (Minnesota)
  • Boyce College (Kentucky)
  • Christendom College (Virginia)
  • Crown College (Tennessee)
  • Faith Bible College (Maine)
  • Grove City College (Pennsylvania)
  • Gutenberg College (Oregon)
  • Hildegard College (California)
  • Hillsdale College (Michigan)
  • Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary (Tennessee)
  • Mount Liberty College (Utah)
  • New College Franklin (Tennessee)
  • New Saint Andrews College (Idaho)
  • Patrick Henry College (Virginia)
  • Pensacola Christian College (Florida)
  • Principia College (Illinois)
  • Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Kentucky)
  • Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Texas)
  • Weimar University (California)
  • Wyoming Catholic College (Wyoming)

If you browse this site, you can gain insight into the common belief system of these colleges. They are mostly fiscal and religious [Christian] conservatives who do not want a large federal government nor federal influence on their education.

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    The list you provided includes just colleges (and seminaries) are there any universities, as in larger institutions that also have consistent research output, that do not accept federal funding?
    – jDAQ
    Commented Mar 20 at 15:38
  • @jDAQ My guess is not for the US. Almost all researcher in academics obtain (or at least try to) federal funding. Plus, there are private research foundations that do not accept federal funds. so, why have a non-federal research university? A college can teach and private research institutes can research. If you can find anything, I'd be happy to edit it in. Commented Mar 20 at 16:18
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    I'm most familiar with Hillsdale, where there is research output on the level of peer liberal arts colleges. Faculty can receive funding from private foundations. In some cases they gain an affiliation with an independent research corporation and receive federal funding through that entity.
    – Paul T.
    Commented Mar 20 at 18:54
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    One bit of context is that the main reason why these US colleges refuse federal funding (including federally backed student loans) is to avoid complying with Title IX of the education amendments to the civil rights act, see e.g. Grove City College v. Bell and the Civil Rights Restoration Act a.k.a. the Grove City Bill.
    – Paul T.
    Commented Mar 20 at 19:47
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    @PaulT. I agree with the context, it's just not part of the OP's question. I even suggest it as a new question in another comment. I was being diplomatic with my suggestion into looking as to why. Commented Mar 20 at 20:37
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The situation in the UK depends on your definitions of public funding and public/private universities.

In the UK all universities are non-governmental institutions (the most common corportate form is a schedule 3 charity, which replaced royal charter as the most common form recently).

However, most universities in the UK are publically funded, in that the government issues loans to students to pay for tuition, and only about 50% of students actaully end up paying these back. In addition, most universities recieve a small amount of teaching grant and a larger (although still relevitively small) quality related research block grant (a grant awarded on the average quality of the research, not for any particular project). The balance of funding usually comes from research grants, which again, mostly come from the government.

Universities that accept students funded by student loans must follow various government mandated rules and submit to regulation by the Office for Students.

There are a very small number of universities in the UK that don't accept government regulations, and therefore can't accept students funded by government loans. This is what is called "private" universities in the UK. There are 8 such institutions, and mostly they are small specialist institutions, such as "University of Law", only two are "general purpose" as far as I can tell: The university of Buckingham and Arden University, and even these specialise in vocation and professional degrees rather than the usual academic subjects.

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This seems a broad question as there are a great variety of institutions and programs. Some might, but many important ones could not.

Regardless, the status quo is that federal funding for research is extremely important (it has always been). Quoting from an NSF source:

Institutions of higher education in the United States spent nearly $90 billion on R&D in FY 2021, the highest amount reported to date. Most of that spending (55%) was financed by federal government sources.

I don't think it is guesswork to state that simply doing away with this source of funding would thoroughly alter the nature of education in the USA. Look only at what has happened to the social sciences and humanities as their funding has shrunk in favor of STEM. Most European universities also rely to a large degree on government funding to sustain research.

Government funding is important (I would say essential) because research carried out in universities is to a large degree an educational experience, typically with no direct financial return but producing highly educated graduates.

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  • This doesn't answer the question. Commented Mar 21 at 17:11
  • "Can privately administered colleges and universities in the USA and the UK successfully run without federal funding?" @AzorAhai-him- Of course it answers this, it depends on your definition of "successful". According to my answer, the answer for many universities (private or not) is no, because research and associated educational activities would be severely compromised (truncated by 50+%, although admin would take some of the hit) and they represents an important part of the mission of many universities.
    – Buck Thorn
    Commented Mar 21 at 17:22
  • I agree the last paragraph might be superfluous. I merely tried to explain why Universities bother with research at all.
    – Buck Thorn
    Commented Mar 21 at 18:11
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In the US, very few colleges and universities, even public ones, receive direct Federal funding. Or, at least, no substantial contribution to cost of operation. Public universities in the US have support from individual states, not the federal government. Some colleges (community and junior colleges) have local governmental funding (city, county, ...).

There is indirect support, however. Students are funded through loans and some grants. But those loans and grants can be used at any accredited place, public or private. Research is partly funded through competitive grants from the Federal government, but those are also available to faculty at both public (state funded) and private institutions. Private organizations (IBM, Google, ...) also provide grants.

And, most research grants, while they go to individuals and groups of faculty, do provide funding to the institutions through "overhead" which consumes a fairly large piece of a grant. This is to support the general infrastructure of the university (buildings and such) as well as labs, computing infrastructure, and similar things. But the flow is technically Government -> individual -> institution, rather than Government -> institution -> individual. The institution also incurs costs in administering the grant so as to assure compliance with regulations and proper use of the monies.

The current administration (Biden et. al. 2024) is trying to forgive a lot of student loans. That money is Federal and benefits the individuals directly. It does, of course, represent funds previously paid to colleges and universities, both public and private.

Many universités, public and private, do work on behalf of government, both Federal and state, and that is funded.

Private institutions (and to an increasingly large extent public ones) are funded by student tuition and gifts of donors, often graduates of those institutions. Both my undergraduate and doctoral institutions are continuously (daily emails) begging me for contributions. Harvard University, for example, has a vast endowment that comes from past contributions over its long life and careful investment of the funds.

As for success, my old undergraduate place was then a small private liberal arts college with about 2000 students. It is now listed as an R2 and has been in operation for about 175 years without federal funding. It is successful in sending people into academic careers as well as business and the sciences.

The Federal government has a role in accreditation and in assuring fairness of treatment through regulations. The states also take such a role, as do private organizations.

See https://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/fed/role.html for the federal role in education in the US.

I suspect that the UK answer is quite different. And, I think that the US usage of "public institution" is different from that in the UK. Here it implies creation by a state government and some institutional control by a state, such as New York. Private institutions, OTOH, are created by private entities, sometimes church units, and funded mostly independent of government other than as mentioned above.

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    I disagree with your first sentence. See this article that would suggest they receive direct federal funding from a legal perspective: nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/… Commented Mar 20 at 16:19
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    Yes and the regulations apply to universities because they receive direct federal funding. Commented Mar 20 at 17:15
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    I believe your chain of funding for research is wrong. Federal grants and contracts are always made to an organization which administers the funds for the proposed and approved research by an individual. If a researcher wants to go to another institution, they have to get approval to move the funds to that other institution. Approval is rarely withheld. Commented Mar 20 at 18:05
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    To my knowledge the only Federal colleges and universities are the Army, Air Force and Naval academies and the lesser known Coast Guard and Merchant Marine Academies. In addition, Gallaudet College (for deaf people) was founded by the Federal Government but I do not know if this is still a Federal institution. If there are others I would like to know. Commented Mar 20 at 18:10
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    There is also the Uniformed Services University of the health sciences in Washington, DC, operated by the Defense Department. Commented Mar 20 at 21:57

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