Is there any noticeable difference between public and private university in US in terms of the education provided. Or, the only thing that matters is the way that universities are funded. For example private universities have huge amount of private donors where as public universities gets consistent funding from the federal government. Should the notion of public vs private is something that a student be concerned about.

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    Public universities in the US are run by states and as such get most of their funding from state governments, not the federal government. The federal government does provide indirect support through loans and grants to students, research grants, etc. (And in this day and age, it would be a stretch to describe either state or federal funding as consistent...) Jun 15, 2015 at 6:06
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    Actually, I seem to recall a stat that the average state funding of "public" universities is currently down to about 11% of operating budget... Jun 15, 2015 at 13:39

1 Answer 1


Well, by definition, the difference is how much funding comes from the state government, but public universities do still get a good amount from donations. But in my experience, there are qualitative differences in the educational environment at public versus private schools. It's hard to explain these generally, as there's still a lot of variation among public schools or private schools, but here's my attempt at a few of these differences:

  • The student demographics are often markedly different. For instance, private universities tend to be more expensive, thus public universities tend to be more attractive to students with less financial means. There are some articles about how students in certain socio-economic classes are disadvantaged at going to places like Harvard. Peer interactions generally play an important role in your education.
  • Private universities tend to be either small liberal arts colleges or elite research institutions. Most state universities do not try to give a "liberal arts experierence," though of course some are more committed to teaching versus research than others.
  • The top state universities tend to be rather large, where as many top private schools are very small. This makes a difference if you're looking for a small school with a more "personal touch."
  • There are also some private schools with religious affiliations, which may or may not be noticable in the education. In general, private schools have more freedom in how they do things.

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