Policy & Advocacy

The Value and Benefit of Public Universities

Public universities were founded with the mission of advancing the public good – providing a life-changing education to students from ordinary backgrounds; undertaking pathbreaking research that saves lives, drives innovation, and enhances quality of life; and engaging their communities to tackle some of the most intractable challenges they face.

What Students Pay at Public Universities

  • Published in-state tuition and fees at public four-year universities average $10,940. Yet many students pay less.
  • On average, in-state students at public four-year institutions pay just $2,250 in tuition and fees after scholarships, grants, and tax benefits.
  • 2.6 million or more than one in three students at public universities receive Pell Grants, federal grants aimed at helping low-income students access college.

Public University Student Debt Facts

Image of student debt breakdown for public universities

  • More than four in ten students at public four-year universities complete their degree with zero debt.
  • Nearly eight in ten students graduate with less than $30,000 in debt.
  • Among those who do borrow, the average debt at graduation is $25,921 — or $6,480 for each year of a four-year degree at a public university.

Employment and Earnings For College Grads

Graphic of earnings by education

  • College graduates are half as likely to be unemployed as their peers who only have a high school degree.
  • Typical earnings for bachelor’s degree holders are $36,000 or 84 percent higher than those whose highest degree is a high school diploma.
  • College graduates on average make $1.2 million more over their lifetime.

How College Graduates Benefit Society

Graphic of tax contributions of college graduates

  • Compared with individuals whose highest degree is a high school diploma, bachelor’s degree holders are 24 percent more likely to be employed, 3.5x less likely to impoverished, and nearly 5x less likely to be imprisoned.
  • In all, lifetime government expenditures are $82,000 lower for college graduates than for those with high school degrees.
  • Thanks to higher earnings, college graduates on average pay $273,000 more than a high school graduates over a lifetime

How Public University Research and Community Engagement Benefits All

Graphic of public universities meeting community needs

  • Public research universities conduct two-thirds of university-based research and a large share of federally funded research. This research improves our collective understanding of the world around us, helps cure debilitating diseases, and fosters innovations that grow our economy.
  • Public research universities played a central role in developing: touch screens and lithium-ion batteries that are used in smartphones, laptops, and electric vehicles; a variety of antibiotics used to treat diseases like tuberculosis; and breakthroughs in crop genetics that sowed the seeds of the Green Revolution, helping save a billion people from starvation globally.