It’s time to bring back a regular post about Public Ivy schools. Last time I wrote such a post I evaluated large state universities, some historically called Public Ivy schools, by a “Virginia Rule.”

Each school that I believed to be a Public Ivy had to charge less for all direct charges—tuition and fees, room and board—than the University of Virginia, the quintessential Public Ivy, charges for tuition and fees alone.

This year the University of Virginia will charge non-resident students just over $45,000 for tuition and fees, more than many flagship state universities charge for everything that a family would see on a term bill for an incoming freshman: tuition and fees, room and board. The university has estimated that its Total Cost of Attendance for a non-resident student is between $60,100 and $61,200, depending on the program where s/he is enrolled. This is about twice the charges for a Virginian to come.

It’s not that I don’t like the University of Virginia. It was one of the schools that piqued my interest when I was in high school. I also took a long look at the university when I applied to graduate programs in urban planning. If I was a Virginian, it would be at the top of my list, the application marked Early Action.

There are three understandable reasons why the University of Virginia charges non-residents so much.

It has a far smaller undergraduate student body than other “brand name” state universities such as the University of California-Berkeley or the University of Michigan.

The University of Virginia about 17,000 undergraduates 10,000 fewer than either Berkeley or Michigan and about 1,000 more than Cornell, the largest Ivy League school. In this sense the University of Virginia is closer to an Ivy than the larger schools.

It can get the money from non-residents who want to come. 

The University of Virginia gets around 30 percent of its undergraduate population from outside the state.  It has recruited non residents longer than most state universities. The University of Virginia’s founding dates back to 1819. It’s easy for someone from New York or Atlanta to drive to the campus in a half day’s drive.

Among the students who entered the University of Virginia in 2015, less than half of those who applied for need-based financial aid were determined to have financial need, according to the school’s 2015-16 Common Data Set. The university also states that it will meet 100 percent of demonstrated need, by their calculations. But it is clear that it wants students who have need to pay more than they probably want to.

There are other fine schools in Virginia.

Virginia has the best selection of public options for higher education in the United States. Aside from the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary, Virginia Tech, James Madison University, the University of Mary Washington and Christopher Newport University do a fine job of graduating a freshman class on time. The sizes of these schools vary from around 4,000 undergraduates (Mary Washington) to nearly 30,000 (Virginia Tech). Unlike California, for example, or Michigan where the options are all very large schools, Virginians have the options of small and large public colleges. There are also two excellent, well-endowed selective private schools in the state: the University of Richmond and Washington and Lee University that compete very strongly with the public schools.

Now let’s set hard and fast rules for a Virginia Rule school.

  • It must be a National Research University like the University of Virginia. The Ivy League schools are also National Research Universities;
  • If the school is to attract the same students that would consider the University of Virginia as well as Ivy League schools it should also have an honors college;
  • Like the University of Virginia, the school should be making a sincere effort to attract non-residents;
  • The school should retain 89 percent or better of a freshman class and graduate at least 75 percent of the class within six years; and,
  • It should charge an incoming out-of-state student less for all direct charges (tuition and fees, room and board) than the University of Virginia does for tuition and fees alone.

These rules left me with a short “short list” of Virginia Rule schools. They included:

  • Binghamton University (NY)
  • Clemson University (SC)
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Miami University of Ohio
  • Purdue University (IN)
  • Rutgers University-New Brunswick (NJ)
  • Stony Brook University (NY)
  • The Ohio State University
  • University of Georgia
  • University of Massachusetts-Amherst
  • University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
  • University of New Hampshire
  • University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  • University of South Carolina
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Virginia Tech

With the exception of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, none of these schools is more selective than the University of Virginia. The others have honors colleges that often attract similar students. Admittedly this is a very short list, and my cost cut-off forced me to leave off some excellent state universities.

If someone was to tell me that a state university should give a large cost priority to residents of the home state, I would not argue. College-bound students in Virginia are certainly getting good value for their money from their flagship university as well as other public colleges in their state. But I have a problem when a state university that has been historically identified as a Public Ivy charges non-residents as much as a private Ivy. It sends a bad signal to those non-residents who want to come but cannot afford to unless they have help from the school.

For more insights to help you compare colleges contact me at or call me at 609-406-0062.

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