State schools explained

Understanding public colleges and universities can help your family explore all its educational options.

State schools explained

"Toga! Toga! Toga!" Does the thought of sending your student to college conjure up images you’d rather not have?


If you think going to a “state-owned school” means all-night parties, football games and little class time, it’s time to think again.

There are three main types of state or public institutions of higher education.

1. Land grant schools bear the name of their state. They were founded by each state with certain criteria to follow, such as Penn State and West Virginia University.

2. State-related schools are public but funded only partially by the state, such as the University of Pittsburgh and Temple University. In several instances, land grant schools are also state-related, such as Penn State University.

3. State-owned schools are owned and governed by the state. Examples are the State University of New York system and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Ed.

Myth 1: At a state-owned school, you get what you pay for.

Truth is: People often use this phrase to justify paying a high price on items. But when it comes to higher education, that’s not always the case. State-owned schools often offer lower tuition rates not because their education is second-rate, but because they are supported financially by the state government and not privatized.

They do not require payments to CEOs, shareholders or other interest groups. State schools offer quality, competitive educational programs at affordable prices, even for out-of-state students.

Best advice: Check into the tuition costs, and ask where the dollars are spent.

Myth 2: At a state-owned school, classes aren’t taught by real professors.

Truth is: Classes are taught by “real” professors, those who have a doctoral degree in the area they teach. There may be a few graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), but they aren’t just anyone pulled off the street.

GTAs go through competitive training to be able to provide the best education to underclassmen.

Best advice: Have your teen research faculty biographies, and then contact faculty at different schools. Your student should ask questions about the program and, if you’re able to visit the school, ask to meet with the professors face to face.


Myth 3: At a state-owned school, you can only study general subjects.
Truth is: Many state-owned schools offer more areas of concentration than other higher education institutions. Majors are constantly evolving.

Many state-owned schools offer more than 125 majors, master’s and doctoral programs. In addition to providing excellent academic experiences, students can also study abroad, develop independent studies, dual majors, and combine programs to make the most of their education.

Best advice: Have your teen do some research on majors of interest and what schools offer those programs. High school counselors are great resources for this information.

Myth 4: My teen can’t get an athletic scholarship or play varsity sports at a state-owned school.

Truth is: Many of the state-owned colleges and universities not only offer varsity sports, but many offer NCAA Divisions I and II.

Best advice: Check with high school coaches for more information about the sport and/or the state schools your student is interested in.

Myth 5: My teen won’t be able to get into graduate school unless she starts at an Ivy League or well-known college.

Truth is: It’s grades and enthusiasm that earn a student the opportunity to continue their education at the graduate level.

Graduates of state-owned colleges and universities can be found all over the country studying for graduate degrees.

Many state-owned schools offer programs in conjunction with other universities to maximize time in school. For example, a “2+3 program” in engineering would offer the first two years of college at the state-owned school, continued with the last three years at a second university.

I hope that I’ve helped to clear up some of the myths about state-owned schools. I encourage you to take advantage of visitation programs set up to answer all your questions and set the record straight for state schools across the United States.

Jessica A. Halchak is an admissions counselor at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.


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