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Why Public College Costs More than an Ivy for Some Middle Class Kids

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The good news: If you’re the parent of a college-bound student, it could be cheaper to send your young person to an Ivy League school than to your friendly neighborhood public institution, a potential bargain for families struggling to pay for tuition, room, and board.

The bad news: That down-is-up scenario, where a public education might cost more than a private one, is yet another sign that college costs are out of control. And it’s forcing underfunded land-grant universities to hustle, pushing themselves to compete with their affluent, privately endowed peers. Throughout September and October, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities is running a Public University Values campaign which seeks to spotlight the value of public higher education institutions.

State disinvestment and federal neglect “have led us to a situation in which public colleges are no longer affordable for working- and middle-class students,” said Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst specializing in college affordability at Demos, a New York–based think tank. Public colleges, he said, “are often public in name only, because states have allowed funding to deteriorate over a 30-year period.”

For kids from low-income families, the inability of public colleges to match private ones when it comes to affordability is the latest indicator that a postsecondary education is slipping further out of reach—even as a college degree has become a prerequisite for a good job and a decent living.[...]