An Exploratory Study of America’s Public Universities


This page contains information on an exploratory study of America’s public universities as seen through multiple lenses, including the distinction between land-grant and non-land-grant universities, flagship versus non-flagship universities, and universities operating under various Carnegie Classification tiers. The purpose of this page is to generate dialogue about the preliminary findings.

How the Principal Investigators Came Together

Stephen M. Gavazzi, a professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University, wrote a book with West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee for Johns Hopkins University Press entitled Land-Grant Universities for the Future: Higher Education for the Public Good. As a follow-up to this book, he continues to pursue questions about what makes land-grant universities different than other public institutions of higher learning.

David V. Rosowsky completed six years as Provost and Senior Vice President at the University of Vermont and is taking a sabbatical before returning to the civil engineering department as Professor. He has been using his sabbatical year to engage in several writing projects, many of which are aimed at better understanding current and future issues facing America’s public universities.

Gavazzi and Rosowsky began to interact on a variety of social media platforms, and soon discovered many overlapping interests. Partnerships on several projects were discussed, with a keen eye toward grounding some of their conceptual ideas within cold hard data. And the database most likely to be used in their joint exploration was IPEDS, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

For that reason, Rosowsky reached out to the nearest IPEDS data expert he knew, who just happened to also be employed at UVM. That data expert was Alexander Yin, the Executive Director of UVM’s Office of Institutional Research, who has been using the IPEDS database to track UVM activities associated with improved retention and graduation rates, decreased time to degree, and the collection and reporting of post-graduation outcomes.



The Basics of the Study

Together, the three individuals leading this project began to discuss how the IPEDS database could be used to answer one of Gavazzi’s most pressing questions — how land-grant universities are different from other public universities – with an enlarged set of queries about other potential differences among the non-land-grant institutions. In other words, the questions not only surrounded the land-grant versus non-land-grant distinction, but also distinctions between flagship and non-flagship status, and among the different Carnegie Classification levels.

Also, there was another “within group” land-grant distinction they were interested in examining: were there differences between the 1862 and 1890 land-grant institutions? There were a variety of reasons to believe so, but that question also further concretized the need to examine a wider assortment of non-land-grant public institutions.

To make the comparisons more “apples to apples,” they decided to constrain their comparisons to those doctoral granting institutions that contained at least 10,000 students (by headcount). Within this truncated collection of public universities, they decided to focus on two key variables: 1) average revenue and expenditures related to educational costs; and 2) the percent of educational costs per student FTE covered by tuition and fees.



All financial and student information was collected from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) for the 2016-17 academic year. The criterion for institutions in the study were all public doctoral institutions with at least 10,000 students (headcount). This narrowed the number of institutions for the study to 173, where each institution was classified into one of eight categories (Table 1) using the 2015 Carnegie Classifications of doctoral institutions.

Using the financial revenue and expense categories in IPEDS,[1][2] the following variables were utilized or created for each institution:

  • Tuition and fees per student FTE (tuition and fees after deducting discounts and allowances divided by student FTE);
  • Federal dollars per student FTE (sum federal operating grants and contracts, appropriations, and non-operating grants divided by student FTE);
  • State dollars per student FTE (sum of state operating grants and contracts, appropriations, and non-operating grants divided by student FTE);
  • Local dollars per student FTE (sum of local operating grants and contracts, appropriations, and non-operating grants divided by student FTE); and
  • Total education costs per student FTE (sum of instructional costs, academic support costs, student services costs, and scholarships and fellowships and expenses divided by student FTE).

Descriptive statistics were then used to examine the relationships between revenue and expenditures and the institutional categories.

Table 1: Descriptive Statistics of Institutional Categories and Student Size (2016-17)[3]

Category n Average Student


Standard Deviation Student Headcount Minimum Student


Maximum Student Headcount
Land Grant and Flagship 30 36,600 19,794 12,693 106,328
Land Grant, Not Flagship 21 32,684 13,201 14,032 70,245
Flagship, Not Land Grant 20 34,963 13,093 13,267 67,935
HBCU and Land Grant 2 11,682 885 10,797 12,566
HBCU, Not Land Grant 2 10,930 256 10,674 11,185
Not Flagship nor Land Grant nor HBCU (R1) 29 41,616 19,498 19,834 118,390
Not Flagship nor Land Grant nor HBCU (R2) 43 24,990 7,930 10,011 43,018
Not Flagship nor Land Grant nor HBCU (R3) 29 20,461 7,649 10,087 44,790
Total 176 30,703 16,019 10,011 118,390


Table 2: Average Revenue and Expenditures related to Educational Costs of Public Doctoral Institutions (2016-17)

Category Avg.

Tuition and Fees per Student FTE

Avg. Federal Dollars per Student FTE Avg. State Dollars per Student FTE Avg. Local Dollars per Student FTE Avg. Educational Costs per Students FTE
Land Grant and Flagship $12,758 $6,781 $11,884 $260        $22,494
Land Grant, Not Flagship $11,936 $5,742 $9,620 $188         $19,253
Flagship, Not Land Grant $13,410 $7,856 $8,480 $283         $24,310
HBCU and Land Grant $5,404 $3,529 $10,668 $47         $15,833
HBCU, Not Land Grant $6,967 $3,177 $7,045 $12         $15,985
Not Flagship nor Land Grant nor HBCU (R1) $11,689 $6,069 $8,215 $104         $22,958
Not Flagship nor Land Grant nor HBCU (R2) $9,801 $1,904 $6,711 $36         $17,525
Not Flagship nor Land Grant nor HBCU (R3) $7,327 $791 $6,273 $35         $13,382
All Institutions $10,791 $4,405 $8,365 $131         $19,525


Figure 1: Average Revenue and Expenditures related to Educational Costs of Public Doctoral Institutions (2016-17)

Table 2: Percent Educational Costs per Student FTE covered by Tuition and Fee per Student FTE

Category % Tuition and Fees Cover Educational Costs
HBCU and Land Grant 35.0%
HBCU, Not Land Grant 43.3%
Not Flagship nor Land Grant nor HBCU (R3) 55.5%
Flagship, Not Land Grant 56.6%
Not Flagship nor Land Grant nor HBCU (R1) 57.3%
Not Flagship nor Land Grant nor HBCU (R2) 58.3%
Land Grant and Flagship 58.3%
Land Grant, Not Flagship 64.3%
All Institutions 57.8%



At present, we wish to focus attention on three main findings.

  1.  Land grants, public flagships, and R1 regional public universities spend more per student FTE than HBCU’s and non-R1 regional public universities.
  2. HBCUs generate the lowest revenue per student FTE. While their state dollars per student FTE are comparable to non-HBCUs, the federal dollars per student FTE also are lower than non-HBCUs (although not as low as non-R1 regional public universities, likely a reflection of their lower research activity)
  3. Tuition and fees at HBCUs cover the lowest percentage of total educational costs (averaging less than 40%) per student FTE. All others (i.e., non-HBCUs) appear to be comparable (55%-58%) with the exception of land grant, not flagship institutions (64%), for reasons not immediately obvious, possibly because they have lower research expenditures and/or fewer professional programs (often full-tuition bearing).


Questions for Commentators

For starters, we want readers to share their criticisms of our methodology and/or assumptions.

We also are looking forward to hearing reader thoughts on additional analyses, provided the data are available. This could include different ways of looking at (parsing, grouping, etc.) the same data OR including additional data, schools, categories, etc.

We also want to hear reader suggestions for whether and how to include other available data sources (if there are any) to augment what we are able to get from IPEDS.

Finally, we are interested in reader thoughts on how these data and/or findings might be useful in their own work or spheres of influence. For example, work with legislatures, campus communications around strategic priorities/initiatives, admissions and aid decisions, role of Extension, broader service to State and citizens, etc.


Feel Free to Contact Us Directly!

If you do not wish to use the comment box on this page, please feel free to write to any or all of us!

Steve Gavazzi is at

David Rosowsky is at

Alex Yin is at



Appendix A: Land Grant and Flagship


Louisiana State University and AgrAlexander.Yin@uvm.eduicultural & Mechanical College
New Mexico State University-Main Campus
Ohio State University-Main Campus
Pennsylvania State University
Rutgers University-New Brunswick
The University of Tennessee-Knoxville
University of Alaska Fairbanks
University of Arizona
University of Arkansas
University of California-Berkeley
University of Connecticut
University of Delaware
University of Florida
University of Georgia
University of Hawaii at Manoa
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Kentucky
University of Maine
University of Maryland-College Park
University of Massachusetts-Amherst
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
University of Missouri-Columbia
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
University of Nevada-Reno
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus
University of Rhode Island
University of Vermont
University of Wisconsin-Madison
University of Wyoming
West Virginia University



Appendix B: Land Grant, Not Flagship


Auburn University
Clemson University
Colorado State University-Fort Collins
Iowa State University
Kansas State University
Michigan State University
Mississippi State University
Montana State University
North Carolina State University at Raleigh
North Dakota State University-Main Campus
Oklahoma State University-Main Campus
Oregon State University
Purdue University-Main Campus
South Dakota State University
Texas A & M University-College Station
University of California-Davis
University of California-Riverside
University of Idaho
Utah State University
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Washington State University




Appendix C: Flagship, Not Land Grant


Indiana University-Bloomington
The University of Alabama
The University of Montana
The University of Texas at Austin
University at Buffalo
University of Colorado Boulder
University of Iowa
University of Kansas
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
University of Mississippi
University of New Mexico-Main Campus
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of North Dakota
University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus
University of Oregon
University of South Carolina-Columbia
University of South Dakota
University of Utah
University of Virginia-Main Campus
University of Washington


Appendix D: HBCU and Land Grant


Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
North Carolina A & T State University


Appendix E: HBCU, Not Land Grant


Jackson State University
Texas Southern University




Appendix F: Not Flagship nor Land Grant nor HBCU (R1)


Arizona State University
Florida International University
Florida State University
George Mason University
Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus
Georgia State University
Stony Brook University
SUNY at Albany
Temple University
Texas Tech University
The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Dallas
University of Alabama at Birmingham
University of California-Irvine
University of California-Los Angeles
University of California-San Diego
University of California-Santa Barbara
University of California-Santa Cruz
University of Central Florida
University of Cincinnati-Main Campus
University of Houston
University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Louisville
University of North Texas
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus
University of South Florida-Main Campus
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Virginia Commonwealth University
Wayne State University




Appendix G: Not Flagship nor Land Grant nor HBCU (R2)


Ball State University The University of Texas at El Paso
Binghamton University The University of Texas at San Antonio
Bowling Green State University-Main Campus University of Akron Main Campus
Central Michigan University University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus
Cleveland State University University of Louisiana at Lafayette
East Carolina University University of Maryland-Baltimore County
Florida Atlantic University University of Massachusetts-Boston
Illinois State University University of Massachusetts-Lowell
Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis University of Memphis
Kent State University at Kent University of Missouri-Kansas City
Miami University-Oxford University of Missouri-St Louis
New Jersey Institute of Technology University of Nevada-Las Vegas
Northern Arizona University University of New Orleans
Northern Illinois University University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Ohio University-Main Campus University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Old Dominion University University of Northern Colorado
Portland State University University of South Alabama
Rutgers University-Newark University of Southern Mississippi
San Diego State University University of Toledo
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale Western Michigan University
Texas A & M University-Commerce Wichita State University
Texas State University



Appendix G: Not Flagship nor Land Grant nor HBCU (R3)


Boise State University
California State University-Fresno
California State University-Fullerton
East Tennessee State University
Eastern Michigan University
Georgia Southern University
Idaho State University
Indiana State University
Indiana University of Pennsylvania-Main Campus
Lamar University
Louisiana Tech University
Middle Tennessee State University
Montclair State University
Oakland University
Rowan University
Sam Houston State University
San Francisco State University
Tennessee Technological University
Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi
Texas A & M University-Kingsville
Texas Woman’s University
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
The University of West Florida
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
University of Louisiana at Monroe
University of Nebraska at Omaha
University of West Georgia
Valdosta State University
Wright State University-Main Campus


[1] For more information regarding the IPEDS revenue categories see:

[2] For more information regarding the IPEDS revenue categories see:

[3] Please Appendices A – G for institutions within each category



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