By Richard Vedder and James Coleman
We often draw a distinction between public and private universities and colleges. Public schools ostensibly are ones that are heavily dependent on government funds for support, and are under some control by some governmental entity, usually state government. Private universities, or so the myth goes, are mainly dependent on private funds and derive little of their support from government agencies.
The reality is quite different. With respect to the federal government, by far the most subsidized institutions are the so-called private colleges and universities. This is shown in the table below, which lists federal revenues received per student at the 15 most generously subsidized institutions.
INSTITUTION AND FEDERAL GRANTS PER STUDENT
1. California Institute of Technology --$289,154
2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology-$257,953
3. Johns Hopkins University ---$173,429
4. Stanford University--$125,196
5. U.S.Military Academy--$114,455
6. Case Western Reserve U. --$91,003
7. Columbia U. --$85,881
8. U.S. Naval Academy --$83,378
9. Yale University --$78,272
10. Washington U.St.Louis --$72.242
11. U. of Chicago --$71,350
12. Duke University --$67,515
13. Harvard University --$64,402
14. Yeshiva University --$59,577
15. U. of Rochester --$56,894
13 of 15 schools are so-called "Private" institutions, the sole exceptions being two of the service academies. Not a single "state" university is on the list (the top one, the University of Washington, ranks 22nd). Two of the schools of the above list are so rich their endowment spending would exceed $100,000 per student if they followed the five per cent rule required of private foundations.
The federal government is widening the gap between the rich and poor schools by the way it allocates funds. To be sure, the totals for a few schools are distorted because they run national laboratories (e.g., the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) for the federal government under contract. And most of these schools are receiving large sums for medical research. This may be well spent money --although how one can say that definitively, we don't know.
Each of these schools collects hefty overhead fees --usually around one-half the amount of direct research support. My guess is that Harvard gets at least $20,000 per student in overhead support, while Slippery Rock State College gets far less than $1,000. Which school is more "private"? Is Harvard really vastly more deserving of administrative (overhead) support than Slippery Rock? Interesting questions, deserving good answers.
Another question: if we separated research programs from the instructional activities by creating separate research institutes, would it help or hinder society in its quest for both disseminating and creating knowledge?
Richard Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, while James Coleman is an undergraduate at Ohio University and a CCAP student associate.