Why Choose a Public College or College or University in Illinois?
The Prairie State is home to 63 public colleges and universities — including two-year and four-year colleges — and 187 private for-profit and nonprofit schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Students and their families are often motivated by cost when choosing a public college or university rather than a private college. Illinois, a member of the Midwest Student Exchange Program, also offers tuition reciprocity to residents in participating states such as Michigan. Additionally, public colleges and universities in Illinois offer far more than just an affordable education.
Public institutions often have larger research facilities and program offerings. However, private Illinois colleges like Northwestern University — with 90 school-based research centers and 40 university research institutes and centers — also have vast research facilities.
Public college students can also enjoy more extracurricular and campus activities because public schools in Illinois have higher enrollment numbers than private colleges. Discover the top public colleges and universities in Illinois. Learn how much it costs to attend a school in the state and how to pick the right college.
Pros and Cons of Attending a Public College or University in Illinois
More affordable tuition since public colleges and universities receive federal and state aidGreater demographic diversityMore available majors and minors, as well as certificatesExciting campus life with more social, civic, and extracurricular activitiesA high-quality education at a lower price
Less interest-free financial aid than private schools with large endowmentsLess geographic diversityLarger class sizes and overall enrollmentLess personal atmosphere and less one-on-one time with instructorsPotentially less prestige and lower earnings among graduates
Nonprofit vs. For-Profit Colleges and Universities in Illinois
Nonprofit colleges and universities, also called not-for-profit schools, receive public funding from the state and federal government. These institutions usually hold institutional accreditation, signifying the school's outcomes, curriculum, and facilities have been vetted. Public colleges and universities such as the University of Illinois and Chicago State University qualify as nonprofits even though they profit from tuition and other sources. Tuition and funding from endowments and private donations at a nonprofit go toward educational programs, research, and faculty salaries.
For-profit colleges and universities are run by shareholders in order to make a profit. Revenue may go toward marketing efforts instead of research and education. Graduates of for-profit colleges and universities, which do not always hold accreditation, may receive a lower quality education. Students at for-profit schools more often have unfavorable graduation outcomes and less success in finding jobs. Employers may also look down on for-profit schools. That said, the pros of for-profit schools, such as higher acceptance rates, should not be overlooked. Some for-profit colleges also train students for specific vocations with flexible and quick programs.
The NCES College Navigator lists all for-profit and nonprofit colleges in Illinois.
How Much Does It Cost to Attend a Public College or University in Illinois?
Public colleges and universities in Illinois typically cost less than private schools. According to NCES, Illinois residents attending public four-year colleges paid an average of roughly $14,460 in tuition and fees during the 2019-2020 academic year. Private four-year college students paid $35,570 in tuition and fees during the same period. In-state students at public two-year colleges in Illinois paid an average of about $4,040 in 2019-2020.
Factors such as residency status can make attending a public college or university expensive. Out-of-state students at public four-year colleges in Illinois paid $29,515 for tuition and fees in 2019-2020, according to NCES. Two-year schools in Illinois charged out-of-state students $11,450 during the same year.
Tuition costs for out-of-state students vary by school and program. For instance, Northeastern Illinois University charges about $20,180 in tuition for out-of-state students during the 2022-2023 academic year. For out-of-state students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, tuition and fees cost $35,110-$42,800.
In addition, students must factor in other expenses such as transportation, books, and health. According to NCES, public colleges in Illinois also charged about $6,140 for room and $5,210 for board during the 2019-2020 academic year. Private colleges charged roughly $7,700 and $5,800 for room and board, respectively.
Nonetheless, despite common misconceptions, not all students borrow money to pay for college. Private and public schools offer financial aid packages, such as grants and scholarships that do not require repayment.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Public Colleges and Universities in Illinois
How many public colleges and universities are there in Illinois?
Illinois has 63 public schools, including 12 four-year colleges and 51 two-year schools.
Two-year schools include Black Hawk College, Capital Area School of Practical Nursing, Carl Sandburg College, the City Colleges of Chicago system, College of DuPage, College of Lake County, Danville Area Community College, and Elgin Community College.
Public four-year colleges include Chicago State University, Eastern Illinois University, Governors State University, Illinois State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, University of Illinois Chicago, University of Illinois Springfield, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Western Illinois University.
What is the most expensive public college or university in Illinois?
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign charges the highest in-state tuition of all the public colleges and universities in Illinois. During the 2022-2023 academic year, in-state students pay about $17,140-$22,320 in tuition and fees.
Each program at the University of Illinois schools charges a different tuition rate. Business students pay about $38,740 in tuition, fees, and expenses. Engineering, technology, and management for agricultural systems students pay about $36,140 for tuition and fees.
College tuition across the nation has continued to increase each year since 1980, with students paying 170% more now than they did 40 years ago.
What is the least expensive public college or university in Illinois?
As of 2022, students who attend Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville pay about $9,120 annually for tuition and an additional $12,980 for general student fees and room and board. Eastern Illinois University also charges lower tuition than many schools, with students paying $9,660 annually during the 2022-2023 academic year, not including fees. Chicago State University undergraduates paid about $13,660 a year as of 2021.
Tuition rates differ for undergraduate and graduate students. Out-of-state fees and international student rates can make Illinois' most affordable public colleges cost as much as a private institution.
What is the biggest public college or university in Illinois?
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is the biggest public institution in Illinois. The school boasted a total student enrollment of 52,331 in 2020, increasing by 4,135 from 2019. As of the 2021-2022 academic year, the college enrolled 56,299 students, with 8,303 in the first-year class alone. U of I also offers a large catalog of majors with 150 undergraduate programs and 100 graduate and professional programs.
Is a public college or university right for me?
What college a student attends depends on what they want to study. Public colleges and universities typically offer more areas of study than private colleges. Attending a public college or university may also suit you if you want an education that, on average, costs less than a private college. While private colleges may offer smaller class sizes and lower enrollment numbers, public colleges have larger class sizes and campuses.