What’s the Value of Public Higher Education?

In times of uncertainty, it’s helpful to take a step back and reflect upon our core values and mission. Why are we here? What do we do best? What have we accomplished, and what do we hope to achieve in the future?

As leaders of public institutions, we know our universities provide great benefit to society, but communicating that value can be challenging. Misconceptions abound, and it’s become harder to distinguish fact from fiction in an over-saturated media environment. We need to remind the public that our institutions provide great value to students, the economy, our communities, and scientific progress.

That’s the goal of APLU’s #PublicUValues campaign: a one-month social media blitz intended to bring public universities together as one voice and communicate the value of public higher education. Throughout October, universities delivered a coordinated and consistent message, backed by data and success stories from their campuses. Together, they demonstrated that public institutions provide affordable education, contribute positively to society, and conduct cutting edge research that saves lives, grows the economy, and improves our quality of life.

A few highlights from the campaign:

Affordability and Accessibility

Declining state funding has forced many public institutions to raise tuition – and yet, the cost to students is still far lower than at private universities. If you’re an in-state student at a public four-year institution, you’ll pay just $3,770 on average in tuition and fees per year after scholarships, grants, and tax benefits, compared with $14,220 at a private nonprofit university.

Student Debt  

The media has paid a great deal of attention to the student debt crisis in America. However, 79 percent of public university graduates finished their degrees with less than $30,000 in debt and 36 percent graduated with no debt at all.

Lifetime Earnings and Economic Mobility

Approximately 60 percent of all bachelors degrees in the U.S. were awarded by public universities. Having a college degree dramatically improves an individual’s prospects for employment, increases lifetime earnings, and even contributes to longer life expectancy and better health. On average, college graduates earn $32,000 more per year than individuals with just a high school diploma, and will end up with nearly $1 million more in lifetime earnings than high school graduates. These trends are likely to continue: 99 percent of jobs created since the recession went to individuals with at least some postsecondary education.

Contributions to Society

The benefits to society are just as important as the benefits to students themselves. Bachelor’s degree holders are twice as likely to volunteer, 3.5 times as likely to make charitable contributions, and vote at higher rates (75 percent) compared to their high school-educated peers (52 percent). And because college graduates tend to earn more, they contribute an additional $273,000 in taxes over the course of their lifetimes.

Cutting Edge Research

Public universities are drivers of discovery, transforming communities, economies, and whole societies. From agriculture to technology, public universities are creating new knowledge and producing innovations that benefit people around the world. Public institutions, particularly those in urban areas, are working with business and industry partners to develop a workforce that meets community and labor market needs.

How is your institution providing value to students, your community, and society? Continue the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #PublicUValues.

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