Atop scratchy indigo-ish carpet stands rows of 1970s style bookshelves with crappy copies of "the Catcher in the Rye" that haven’t been replaced since… well the '70s. Mysterious meat-something is served every Monday on styrofoam platters, but no more chocolate milk. There are 30-plus kids in each of your classes. Some of your teachers are heroes who should be paid more. Others delegate their duties to a 20-year-old projector and Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Welcome to public school.
I’ve been taking advantage of the free American education system for over 14 years. I take pride in saying I went public. Though, as colleges become more competitive and kids are expected to do something as drastic as curing cancer to get an Ivy admit, private prep schools are becoming more popular.
While I think private prep schools are stupid, a waste of money and an instrument of inequality, the kids coming out of them do tend to have higher ACT scores.
Data from the 2018 ACT showed that private school students performed better than public school students by 20 percent in all four subject areas of the exam.
“You’re given more support in terms of college guidance,” said Molly Gantt, a sophomore at UNC.
Gantt went to the Friends School of Baltimore. She said most kids in her class continued on the private school track and enrolled in mostly small northeastern liberal arts schools like Amherst, Tufts or Bowdoin.
According to MarketWatch, 94 of the top 100 Ivy League feeder schools were private. And it’s not for nothing. In North Carolina, the average tuition for private high schools is about $10,042 per year according to the Private School Review.
So private prep schools act as an initial leg up, but what about college? What are you paying for at private universities that public institutions don’t offer? To answer this question, I looked at a study by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.
The study is titled, “A First Try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 Colleges." The study followed graduates from 4,500 universities for up to 40 years after graduation. The study attempted to record the value of each degree — the Return on Investment, if you will.
Researchers used “Net Present Value," a measure of how much a future investment is worth today, adjusted for inflation to compare the schools. NPV summed up the costs and future earnings of each university for 40 years.
Over a 40-year period, private nonprofit schools were the most valuable with $838,000, public colleges were a close second with an NPV of $765,000, while private for-profit institutions are in last place with an NPV of $551,000. I would hate to be at High Point right now.
I found data on Duke and compared it to UNC. Duke had us in the first half with a 15-year NPV of $505,000 while the Tar Heels trailed at $362,000 after 15 years. But, fast-forward to find that… wait, they still have us beat. The NPV after 40 years at Duke is $1,754,000 while UNC is a slight $1,185,000.
Still, Anthony P. Carnevale, the director of Georgetown's Center on Education and Workforce and the head researcher on the report, said there is more to the numbers.
“If you look at the 50th percentile, the solid middle of education institutions in the United States, what you find is it’s made up of a mix of schools,” he said in an interview with CNBC.
Though this data is interesting, Carnevale touched on something important: public or private isn't all that matters.
The numbers may read one way, but it would be ignorant to generalize your education on a few figures. School is way more than what you learn in a classroom. It's what you gain on game days and discern in dingy dorm rooms.
“My friends are definitely jealous I go to UNC,” Gantt said.
Gantt contrasted the more attentive nature of private schools to the self-starter mindset of big state schools.
“I’ve learned to advocate for myself. Coming from a smaller school you’re forced to reach out,” Gantt said. “It’s more like the real world.”
I’m proud to say that I went public.
The oddities that exist in the public school system are some of my favorite stories to tell. Did you have a classmate who sold ears of corn for extra cash at your private prep school? Did you have a friend who dressed up as a horse and galloped the halls? I didn’t think so — but my pals at public schools share similar stories. I think that's invaluable.
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