Why Your College List Should Start with Your Flagship University

Why Your College List Should Start with Your Flagship University

Student standing at state flagship universityLong time readers of my blog know that I think that the start of any college search should begin with estimating your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This simply sets the baseline for how much you should expect to pay. The next step should be looking up your state flagship university. Why? Because while your EFC sets your financial expectations, your state flagship serves as the ideal reference point for adding and comparing the schools you add to your final college list.

Defining State Flagship University

So what is your state flagship? Without going into details, there really isn’t just one definition of a flagship university. For our purposes, the flagship is the state-supported university or universities that meet the following criteria:

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Carnegie Classification of Doctoral University: Higher or Highest Research Activity
Have among the highest graduation rates for public universities in the state
Know that if I don’t include it, people will complain

Yeah, I know the last one is kind of iffy. But I’m from Texas and I know better. The Doctoral University qualification keeps some quality schools such as Truman State University that don’t fit the image of “state flagship” from showing up. And the graduation rate actually closely correlates to the listing of state Flagship Universities defined by the College Board. The colleges with an asterisk are recognized as state flagships by the College Board.

I’m sure there will be plenty of people who will think I should have two schools listed for some of the 33 states where I only list one. And for those where I listed more one, there will be those who will wonder how I could have possibly considered the two schools academic peers. Sorry, I made the best choice with the data I had available.

Furthermore, if you really think school X should be included because that’s the school you would choose over the listed flagship, great! The point of this is to set a benchmark public institution and if you already have one that you know you prefer, by all means, use it.

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Why Use Your Flagship University as a Base

I tell people to start with their flagship because even if they haven’t saved a penny for college, as a state resident, you have been paying to support your public universities through taxes.

For those with a high EFC, your state flagship is likely to still cost less than any private option even with merit aid. If you know the profile of your state flagship, you can decide if the advantages of a private college are worth the cost.

If you’re looking for need-based aid, you also need to know how much your public options cost. If your financial aid award from a private school can’t come in below the cost of attending your public universities without student loans, it just makes financial sense to attend your state school.

I’ve created a list of 68 public universities that I think people can use as their base flagship university. As with most Doctoral Institution, they tend to be large. Only nine had fewer than 10,000 full-timer undergraduates while 29 have 20,000 or more.

Beware of Out-of-State Tuition

One of the first things you should look at is how much these schools charge for out-of-state tuition. A total of 46 charge non-residents more than $40,000. The eleven schools below, charge more than $50,000.

  • University of California-Berkeley
  • University of California-Los Angeles
  • University of Virginia-Main Campus
  • University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • University of Connecticut
  • The University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • University of Arizona
  • Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus

Unless you’re applying to a university that explicitly offers out-of-state students ways to pay the in-state rate or substantial tuition discounts, it doesn’t make sense financially to attend an out-of-state public university.

In-State Tuition May Not Be Such a Great Deal Either

Of course, for some of the universities, the in-state price isn’t anything to brag about. Some public flagship universities charge twice as much as others. In 2016-17, the total cost of attendance ranged from a low of $18,556 to a high of $36,369. Among the 68 schools on the list, 40 charged $25,000 or more. It cost over $30,000 at the following eleven:

  • University of California-Berkeley
  • Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
  • University of California-Los Angeles
  • University of New Hampshire-Main Campus
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Virginia-Main Campus
  • Rutgers University-New Brunswick
  • Auburn University
  • The University of Tennessee-Knoxville
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Connecticut

Students without need shouldn’t be counting on merit money to offset the costs of attending these schools. According to publicly available Common Data Sets, at six of the universities less than 10% of students without need received merit aid. There’s actually quite a bit of variation in the percentage of students receiving merit aid without demonstrated need. The percentage ranges from less than one percent (University of Texas at Austin and Montana State University) to 97% at the University of Utah. You need to check the percentages for the schools in your state.

Graduation Rates are Important

Cost isn’t the only factor to consider when using your state flagship as a baseline for your search. You should also consider graduation rates. Do you really want to pay more to attend a private college that has a lower graduation rate than your state flagship?

Given that the flagship universities on the list have four-year graduation rates from 15% to 88%, this is something you really want to pay attention to. A more expensive private college may be worth the price if you can graduate in four years rather than five or six.

However, you need to keep in mind that graduation rates have a lot to do with the academic credentials of the students admitted. Basically, the lower the acceptance rate, the higher you would expect the graduation rate. Therefore, you need to make sure you take into consideration student characteristics such as test scores, GPA, and percentage receiving Pell Grants when you start comparing graduation and acceptance rates.

Is Your Flagship a Realistic Option?

Among the listed schools, 54 admitted 50% or more of students while five accepted less than 30%. This means that in some states, you shouldn’t use your state flagship as a baseline because you aren’t likely to be admitted. If this is the case, the smart thing to do is find the public university in your state that would be at least a match for you in terms of academic qualifications. Use this institution as your baseline to compare other schools.

Ultimately, using your state flagship university as a benchmark to compare other school is the smart approach to creating a list of quality, affordable colleges. Reviewing how it ranks in different categories can help you to decide which factors are important to your family in picking a college. And the sooner you start the process, the sooner you can find the colleges that will best meet your needs.

If you think this sounds like a reasonable approach to making a college list, you’ll want to download the 7 Days to a Smarter List guide for FREE.

Flagship Universities

 

Name State Full-time Under-grads 4 yr Grad Rate % Admitted Total Price In-State Students (16-17) Total Price Out-of-State Students (16-17) % Freshman Receiving Pell Grants % Freshman Receiving Institutional Grants Avg Amount of Institutional Grants for Freshman Avg Net Price After Gift Aid (2015-2016)
Auburn University AL 19,738 47 81 $30,458 $48,602 13 60 $8,996 21,698
The University of Alabama* AL 28,689 44 53 $28,836 $45,316 18 56 $15,538 20,133
University of Alaska Fairbanks* AK 3,398 15 73 $18,556 $30,764 26 40 $4,291 9,097
Arizona State University-Tempe AZ 38,212 49 83 $26,263 $42,363 26 85 $9,681 13,007
University of Arizona* AZ 29,597 42 79 $27,169 $50,367 26 74 $7,521 16,466
University of Arkansas* AR 19,607 42 63 $24,302 $38,650 19 37 $4,894 15,411
University of California-Berkeley* CA 26,622 76 17 $36,369 $63,051 23 53 $10,878 17,160
University of California-Los Angeles CA 29,004 74 18 $34,056 $60,738 30 52 $10,657 14,236
University of Colorado Boulder* CO 25,059 47 77 $29,215 $52,763 16 50 $7,327 22,727
University of Connecticut* CT 18,131 70 49 $30,002 $51,794 18 56 $10,361 19,064
University of Delaware* DE 17,556 71 70 $27,198 $46,618 14 67 $8,604 15,894
Florida State University FL 29,185 61 58 $22,575 $37,741 26 44 $3,328 16,506
University of Florida* FL 30,168 67 46 $21,251 $43,529 25 29 $5,019 14,761
Georgia Institute of Technology GA 13,668 41 26 $27,420 $47,612 11 25 $7,944 13,340
University of Georgia* GA 25,906 62 54 $26,208 $44,418 19 20 $5,179 14,956
University of Hawaii at Manoa* HI 11,413 25 85 $28,613 $50,645 28 50 $6,271 13,520
University of Idaho* ID 7,400 30 76 $20,640 $35,448 39 89 $4,746 14,787
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign* IL 31,989 70 60 $30,064 $45,686 22 46 $8,410 16,683
Indiana University-Bloomington* IN 31,728 60 79 $24,809 $48,667 19 55 $8,021 12,621
Purdue University-Main Campus IN 28,682 49 56 $23,032 $41,834 17 43 $6,919 11,693
University of Iowa* IA 19,911 51 84 $21,875 $42,113 23 75 $8,936 14,161
Kansas State University KS 17,935 31 94 $23,740 $38,641 21 71 $5,192 16,431
University of Kansas* KS 17,191 41 93 $25,215 $41,999 23 62 $7,202 18,014
University of Kentucky* KY 21,199 38 91 $27,928 $42,778 24 67 $8,795 17,850
Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College* LA 23,602 39 76 $28,934 $45,611 24 57 $5,636 15,095
University of Maine* ME 8,120 36 90 $23,992 $42,862 36 87 $7,615 15,763
University of Maryland-College Park* MD 25,410 69 48 $26,063 $47,927 14 52 $7,705 15,757
University of Massachusetts-Amherst* MA 21,098 67 60 $29,268 $46,501 19 65 $7,797 20,093
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor* MI 27,258 77 29 $28,776 $59,784 15 49 $15,411 16,107
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities* MN 29,168 61 44 $26,719 $36,383 19 59 $5,561 16,242
Mississippi State University MS 16,023 32 56 $23,582 $36,702 34 81 $10,889 15,628
University of Mississippi* MS 17,395 37 78 $23,606 $37,874 22 65 $7,944 14,678
University of Missouri-Columbia* MO 26,027 44 75 $25,916 $42,290 19 64 $7,189 16,317
Montana State University MT 11,671 24 83 $20,467 $36,766 22 63 $4,473 14,953
The University of Montana* MT 8,682 25 92 $19,521 $37,047 39 52 $3,401 13,894
University of Nebraska-Lincoln* NE 18,817 36 75 $24,245 $38,766 25 65 $6,035 16,462
University of Nevada-Reno* NV 14,950 23 83 $23,500 $37,410 29 47 $2,243 15,022
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus* NH 12,687 67 76 $32,200 $46,000 23 70 $10,540 23,066
Rutgers University-New Brunswick* NJ 33,392 59 57 $30,995 $46,646 28 46 $7,579 15,614
New Mexico State University-Main Campus NM 10,419 17 60 $19,144 $32,702 45 61 $6,217 10,213
University of New Mexico-Main Campus* NM 16,126 16 58 $21,750 $36,339 41 70 $2,805 11,230
Stony Brook University NY 15,714 52 41 $24,649 $41,889 33 66 $4,844 13,615
SUNY at Binghamton NY 13,054 71 41 $24,861 $39,941 25 42 $2,941 16,540
University at Buffalo* NY 18,452 58 59 $25,489 $42,729 34 60 $3,241 15,987
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill* NC 17,645 84 27 $24,898 $49,980 21 41 $14,036 10,077
North Dakota State University-Main Campus ND 10,676 27 93 $20,663 $32,227 22 41 $3,738 14,581
University of North Dakota* ND 9,120 25 84 $20,414 $31,568 17 54 $2,969 14,693
Ohio State University-Main Campus* OH 41,117 59 54 $25,847 $44,039 17 80 $8,626 17,971
Oklahoma State University-Main Campus OK 18,347 39 75 $23,071 $37,193 28 75 $6,798 13,951
University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus* OK 18,133 40 71 $27,308 $41,630 20 80 $7,106 17,966
Oregon State University OR 18,493 33 77 $26,341 $44,821 28 67 $4,966 19,484
University of Oregon* OR 18,630 50 78 $25,815 $48,495 25 60 $5,934 15,355
Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus* PA 39,520 68 56 $35,758 $50,240 12 35 $7,656 25,055
University of Rhode Island* RI 12,293 42 73 $28,405 $44,395 24 84 $9,165 18,391
Clemson University SC 17,238 59 51 $28,662 $48,544 16 68 $7,153 17,797
University of South Carolina-Columbia* SC 23,613 54 68 $26,288 $45,716 17 59 $3,202 19,913
South Dakota State University SD 8,559 29 91 $26,527 $29,758 25 57 $2,382 21,421
University of South Dakota* SD 4,961 34 88 $21,377 $24,608 28 67 $3,258 16,502
The University of Tennessee-Knoxville* TN 20,569 43 77 $30,226 $48,646 28 47 $6,519 20,780
Texas A & M University-College Station TX 43,531 52 67 $28,278 $48,456 24 54 $5,038 15,455
The University of Texas at Austin* TX 36,565 55 40 $25,134 $50,724 24 36 $5,345 16,010
University of Utah* UT 16,927 29 76 $22,834 $41,355 24 72 $5,416 11,322
University of Vermont* VT 9,991 62 69 $31,960 $55,024 16 92 $14,447 17,816
University of Virginia-Main Campus* VA 15,807 88 30 $31,186 $60,530 12 31 $16,142 15,945
University of Washington-Seattle Campus* WA 28,377 65 45 $25,948 $49,986 19 38 $7,917 10,068
West Virginia University* WV 20,532 32 76 $21,730 $36,226 27 66 $4,843 10,814
University of Wisconsin-Madison* WI 28,555 56 53 $25,230 $47,480 12 35 $6,995 15,874
University of Wyoming* WY 8,394 27 95 $19,615 $30,775 19 70 $5,359 13,155

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Why Your College List Should Start with Your Flagship University