FAQ: What is a Public Ivy?

Post-it note asking what is a public ivy?The term “Public Ivy” was coined by Richard Moll in Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities which was published in 1985. Moll identified eight public institution with Ivy League characteristics. He argued that these characteristics, which included both academic and non-academic elements, provided an Ivy League experience at a public school price.

Original Public Ivies

Moll had selected eight specific institutions to compare with the eight Ivy League institutions in an attempt to capture the fact that “prestige in higher education is an odd combination of tradition and folklore.” The original eight Public Ivies were:

  • College of William & Mary
  • Miami University (Ohio)
  • University of California
  • University of Michigan
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Virginia

According to the Los Angeles Times, Moll determine the criteria for a distinctive college to be “selective admissions, a quality education program focused on the liberal arts and enough money to buy a superb faculty and build an attractive campus.” Moll created his list based on these criteria and then consulting with others and visiting campuses.

Expanded Public Ivies

Moll included nine “runner-up” universities:

  • University of Colorado
  • Georgia Tech
  • University of Illinois
  • New College in Florida
  • Penn State
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • State University of New York at Binghamton
  • University of Washington
  • University of Wisconsin

Others have since expanded this list. Howard and Matthew Greene added eleven universities to the list. They also created a list of 30 “hidden” public ivies. Often the term is used to identify top ranked public universities. The following table includes all schools on the Greenes’ and Moll’s lists as well as public institutions listed in the US News College Rankings Top 50 National Universities. It also indicates universities that qualified as a 50-50 school in the past three years.

Richard Moll is the source of the original public ivy definition in his book, Public Ivies: A Guide to America's Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities

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