How come there’s such extreme difference in quality between flagship state universities?


You have UC Berkeley, Michigan, Texas, and Virginia, which seem almost—if not actually—like elite schools. All in different regions with different state politics. You can go there and compete against Ivy students for jobs.

And then you have, say, University of Nevada (no offense) or University of Tennessee or something, where you still have highly motivated students, but the institutional reputation seems much lower.

What gives?

In: 0

Under the Federal system, each state is in control of it’s own schools and can demand as much or as little as it pleases. Some states just don’t want to spend the money it takes to get the top tier of teachers. Also, most top teachers want to be among their peers; someone might take less money and work at Berkeley than have a higher salary but be at a less prestigious school.

There actually aren’t “extreme differences in quality” between flagship schools. For the most part you are going to get a good education at any of them, depending on the degree one of those ivy league schools might not be your best option.

What there is an extreme difference in fame and reputation.

Just like how billions of people know who Usain Bolt is but almost nobody knows the names of the other 100+ people that are 99-96% as fast as he is.

At the end of the day we tend to know and care about whatever is “best” regardless of how close “best” is to everything else.

The reputation isn’t really all that much lower, there are just a handful of public schools that have been around for a long time, are in large and populous states and have developed as general world-renown research institutions that they become a feedback loop of innovation and funding.

The state schools are run by the states. Beyond basic accreditation, there aren’t rules about how much money the state has to invest in their public universities, or what sort of academic standards to expect from them. Some states put a lot of money into their schools and expect top tier performance from them. Other states…not so much. The better known schools tend to be from larger states, have more students, and larger budgets.

That said, regardless of “name recognition”, you can get a good education at most state schools. Because they are public schools, they are under some level of independent scrutiny over how they spend their money. The shadiest schools tend to be private, and use very shady business practices (remember ITT Tech?).

Lastly, the education you get at college depends on you, not so much on the school. You can drink your way through an Ivy League school, cheating and cramming your way to a D- average and get a diploma having learned nothing. Or you can go to community college, show up to every class, take notes, and do you homework, and end up with a great education. Going to a fancy school provides two things:

1. Access to really smart professors, if you are are trying to build a relationship to get a research or graduate position.
2. A really fancy diploma that will help you get your first job.