I read this Sunday's New York Times, which had a big article on the funding crisis of public universities - the Times went into detail about the school system, CUNY, but stated that similar problems are occurring at many other public universities across the country (United States.)

The Times writes of the horror stories such as overcrowded classes, lack of lab equipment to teach science classes, chronically leaky ceilings, bathrooms with no toilet paper, faculty who haven't gotten raises in six years now, and other stuff. At CUNY, the Times writes that the morale is extremely low, and, in the fall semester, the faculty have vowed to walk out, if the contract disputes are not resolved.

Meanwhile, the administrative leadership at these public universities have gotten significant raises and big bonuses for their work.

So, my question is: should I be worried as a math PhD applicant, who might possibly apply to some public universities, e.g., CUNY Graduate Center? (CUNY is a "Top 50" math department, according to the U.S. News and World Report.)

Should I avoid applying to public universities to do a math PhD and instead try to attend a privately funded school?

Are the STEM fields perhaps better protected from this funding crisis, and that it is the humanities fields that are the most adversely affected? (The example of lack of lab equipment probably shows that STEM subject areas are not doing any better...)


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    Do you have any evidence that conditions are better at private universities? – StrongBad May 31 '16 at 22:51
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    Also, there isn't a single US public system, rather, each state has its own system (or multiple, in fact). – user0721090601 May 31 '16 at 22:52
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    The NYT article focused on City College, which is the main engineering college of the CUNY system. Clearly STEM is not immune to anything. – ff524 May 31 '16 at 23:11
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    For what it's worth, many private universities and colleges in the US are also having financial problems. See e.g. this article, this article, and this article. – ff524 Jun 1 '16 at 0:43
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    Public universities are extremely unlikely to fail, because no politician is going to commit career suicide by being the politician that killed education. Private institutions are riskier--there are a few actual cases of private colleges going under and leaving students in the lurch. But in either case, as long as you are going to a well-established institution, I don't think this should be a major concern for you. – user24098 Jun 1 '16 at 9:22

Should I avoid applying to public universities to do a math PhD and instead try to attend a privately funded school?

No, it doesn't make sense to decide anything at this level of granularity. You are thinking about some of the right issues, but oversimplifying the situation too much when you boil it down to public vs. private universities.

Public vs. private is literally one bit of information, and your graduate school decisions should be based on far more information than that (if you change your mind based on this one bit, then you are either overreacting or suffering from a tremendous lack of information).

Before deciding where to apply, you should talk with people you know (faculty, other students) and look into different options online. Once you have offers, you should investigate the programs that have admitted you much more thoroughly, including visiting in person as well as gathering whatever other information you can.

Facilities, faculty and student morale, and grad student funding are all factors that you should consider, but you should evaluate them based on the specifics of each program, rather than by jumping to conclusions based on whether it's a public university. (Keep in mind that both public universities differ dramatically from each other, as do private universities.) These factors may also be outweighed by others: Stanford is much better off financially than Berkeley is, but your mathematical interests could be a better fit for Berkeley.

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