Private vs. Public: Doing the Math

Have you ever found yourself in this situation?

You’re having a conversation and the subject of choosing a college comes up. You suggest Oglethorpe University and talk about the great professors, the small classes and the beautiful campus. The response? “I wish we could afford it, but we’re only looking at big state schools because we have the Hope Scholarship.” End of conversation. Or is it?

Oglethorpe awards more than $15 million in scholarships every year.

The Georgia Hope Scholarship was introduced in 1993 as an incentive to keep academically talented students in the state and provide those academically superior students who couldn’t afford a college education access to higher education. Students who met certain GPA requirements could qualify for scholarships that covered 90-100% of their in-state tuition as well as books and fees. A smaller grant was available to students attending Georgia private schools.

Since its inception, over $6.4 billion in HOPE funds have been awarded to more than 1.5 million students. However, recent changes to the program have resulted in more stringent academic requirements and funding for books and fees has been eliminated. From 2010 to 2015, Georgia public university tuition has risen 48%, coupled with rising room and board costs and thousands of dollars in new mandatory fees. The Hope Scholarship has not kept pace and families now face significantly higher costs to attend a state university in Georgia.

Because of its early success, the Hope Scholarship has maintained a strong reputation and many families continue to believe that with Hope, a Georgia state school is nearly free. While far from free, on the surface it still looks like a public education is significantly cheaper than a private Oglethorpe education. A quick comparison of the tuition “sticker price” between the University of Georgia, for example, and Oglethorpe would seem to support that notion, with Oglethorpe’s published tuition rate more than three and a half times that of UGA.


Since 2011, all institutions that receive money from federal aid programs are required by law to post a net price calculator on their websites to help students estimate what they will actually pay for college after grants and scholarships. While these calculators only provide estimates, they do prove to be helpful in dispelling the myth that private colleges are not affordable. In fact, entering identical figures for the average Oglethorpe student on the net price calculators for both OU and UGA estimates a difference of as little as $2,231 between the two schools for an academic year—a far cry from the $20,000+ differential in published costs of attendance. How is this possible? Oglethorpe awards more than $15,000,000 in scholarships every year. In fact, 98% of its students receive some form of financial aid.

HOPE, DOUBLED. private-vs-public

In a recent survey of first-year Oglethorpe students, 89% responded that the net price of college was the most important factor in deciding where to attend. How does Oglethorpe convince these students, whose first concern is cost, to attend OU over a state school alternative they perceive to be “free to attend” because of the Hope scholarship? You begin by debunking the myths, starting with Hope.

It’s a common misconception that the Hope scholarship can only be used to attend a public institution in Georgia. For those families, private colleges are ruled out before they ever consider them. So this past year, Oglethorpe tried a new recruitment strategy, putting the Hope scholarship front and center.

“We knew that we were losing a number of highly qualified students to UGA and other state schools because of the Hope scholarship, so we decided to make this work to our advantage,” explained Lucy Leusch, vice president for admission and financial aid.

She and her team began to not only emphasize Hope when speaking with prospective students and parents, but to sweeten the pot by matching the Hope scholarship dollar for dollar—providing students with “Double Hope”. That strategy proved to be a resounding success. “We are thrilled with the results of our strategy to match the HOPE Scholarship for eligible Georgia residents,” she said, adding that “this year we increased the enrollment of HOPE eligible students by 23%, or an additional 35 students, and realized $271,000 in additional tuition revenue. In addition, SAT scores for Georgia students increased nearly 20 points.” Georgia residents aren’t the only ones to benefit from the new scholarship match. Students graduating from high schools in contiguous states who qualify for similar programs in their state receive a $3,500 Oglethorpe grant in addition to any scholarships they may receive.oglt_charts_11-122


According to government data from the new college scorecard, Oglethorpe grads can expect to earn higher than the national average of their counterparts at other institutions. But paying for all four years of college and getting a job to pay back student loans after they graduate worries many of our students. To help alleviate their concerns and to ensure lifelong financial success, Oglethorpe has partnered with the nonprofit organization Salt to provide free money management courses, planning tools and advice for students and alumni, starting in their first semester at Oglethorpe. Expert help with student loan repayment options, personal loan counseling, online financial education courses (like budgeting), scholarship searches for undergrad or grad school, educational videos and financial quizzes are now available 24/7 at no cost for all Oglethorpe students, alumni, faculty and staff. To learn more and sign up for your free account, visit

SOMETIMES, A RELATIVELY SMALL AMOUNT OF MONEY means the difference between a student completing her OU education or leaving. In 2014, the Oglethorpe Board of Trustees recognized this and stepped up to create the Oglethorpe Emergency Assistance Fund. Subsequently, the Chick-fil-A Foundation has contributed additional funds, allowing the university to help 33 students continue at Oglethorpe with an average grant of $1,800. In just over one year, the fund has awarded nearly $60,000 to students in need. To learn about how you can contribute, visit

Print Friendly, PDF & Email