As a senior in high school, Sandy Sanchez faced a tough decision: accept a spot at Yale University, or stay in-state to join the University of Kansas Honors Program.
According to Frank Bruni of The New York Times, Sanchez isn’t alone. In a recent op-ed, Bruni notes “a striking development” across the nation: public universities expanding and strengthening their honors programs and colleges to compete with small private universities.
Bruni notes that high-ability students like Sanchez are increasingly turning away from prestigious Ivy League schools in favor of public honors programs and colleges. These honors programs offer small class sizes, personalized advising, and a rigorous liberal arts education on par with those at private schools—but at a much smaller price tag.
In Fall 2014, Sanchez enrolled as a freshman in the University of Kansas’s Honors Program, where she has been studying history and exploring second majors.
“I definitely do not regret my decision to come to KU,” Sanchez says. “I do not regret forgoing name for the financial security I will hopefully have in the future.”
As an in-state student at KU, Sanchez’s degree will cost less than a third of an undergraduate degree at Yale and less than half the cost of the average private university. Sanchez’s savings of nearly $180,000 in student debt over four years is hard to beat.
More importantly, Sanchez is happy with her decision academically. “The Honors Program has pushed me in all the right ways, ways that I believe I wouldn’t have experienced at any of the other schools I applied to,” she says.
Bruni agrees that public honors programs can “provide a supportive, challenging haven to some gifted young men and women,” particularly those who want to avoid what he calls the “enclave of extreme privilege” that defines some private universities.
According to Sanchez, a prestigious name is far less valuable than a supportive environment and the motivation to seek out opportunities.
“You can make your college experience whatever you wish,” Sanchez says. “The small, private, liberal arts education that I wanted so badly was in front of me the whole time. I am happy where I am and am thankful to be in the KU Honors Program.”