The Public Ivies: Bigger and Better?


We all know the Ivy League.

Public Ivies: "In 1985, Richard Moll coined the term 'Public Ivy' in his book."

But in 1985, Richard Moll coined the term “Public Ivy” in his book “Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s best public undergraduate colleges and universities,” which aimed to help incoming college students receive a quality education at a more cost-effective price tag. Moll, a dean of admissions at University of California – Santa Cruz, wondered why the Ivy League was considered the best of the best when there were public institutions that offered just as many resources of the same quality. Thus, he set out to create a list of public “Ivy” schools, based on the following criteria.

Criteria to be in the Public “Ivy League”

  • Admissions selectivity
  • Education that includes liberal arts
  • Money put into reputable faculty and to create an attractive campus

According to Richard Moll’s book, these are the original Public Ivies:

The Original Public Ivies

In addition to a list of the original Public Ivies, here’s a look at a Public Ivy ranking by Niche Academics grade.

Niche Overall Grade
Acceptance Rate
Date Founded
A+College of William & MaryWilliamsburgVA6,09732%1693
A-Miami UniversityOxfordOH14,65773%1809
A+University of California - BerkeleyBerkeleyCA25,01822%1868
A+University of Michigan - Ann ArborAnn ArborMI27,04637%1817
A+ University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillNC17,43733%1789
A+University of Texas - AustinAustinTX37,08347%1883
BUniversity of VermontBurlingtonVT9,95677%1791
A+University of VirginiaCharlottesvilleVA14,92830%1819


These schools didn’t make it into Moll’s official Public Ivy list, but are worthy runners-up, according to his book.

Comparing the Ivies to the Public Ivies

The Ivies have lower acceptance rates and higher Niche Academics grades, but the Public Ivies are more widely dispersed across the country and have Niche Academics grades just slightly lower than the Ivy League, with not one school lower than a B+. Public Ivies also have bigger undergrad populations than regular Ivies. Plus, Ivy League schools do not award student athletic scholarships, whereas Public Ivies tend to reward athletes, since many of these schools are involved in athletic conferences like Big Ten, Big 12, and more.

Traditional Ivy League Schools

Niche Overall Grade
Acceptance Rate
Date Founded
A+Harvard UniversityCambridgeMA6,6526%1636
A+Columbia UniversityNew York CityNY7,2367%1754
A+Princeton UniversityPrincetonNJ5,3278%1746
A+Yale UniversityNew HavenCT5,3938%1701
A+Brown UniversityProvidenceRI6,1189%1764
A+Dartmouth CollegeHanoverNH4,13910%1769
A+University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaPA10,32413%1740
A+Cornell UniversityIthacaNY14,24517%1865

Greenes’ Guides to Public Ivies

In their 2001 book “The Public Ivies: America’s Flagship Public Universities,” Howard and Matthew Greene took Moll’s initial 1985 list and expanded on it to include 30 of the best public colleges and universities, dividing them by regions including Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, Southern, Western, and Great Lakes & Midwest.

Great Lakes & Midwest
Penn StateUniversity of DelawareUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillUniversity of ArizonaIndiana University
Rutgers UniversityUniversity of Maryland - College ParkUniversity of Texas - AustinUniversity of California - BerkeleyMiami University
SUNY Binghamton UniversityCollege of William & MaryUniversity of FloridaUniversity of California - Los AngelesUniversity of Michigan - Ann Arbor
University of ConnecticutUniversity of VirginiaUniversity of GeorgiaUniversity of California - DavisMichigan State University
University of California - IrvineOhio State University
University of California - San DiegoUniversity of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign
University of California - Santa BarbaraUniversity of Iowa
University of Colorado - BoulderUniversity of Minnesota - Twin Cities
University of WashingtonUniversity of Wisconsin

Other “Ivies”

The Seven Sisters are women’s colleges considered to be the female version of the Ivy League.

The Bottom Line 

Bigger and more scattered around the country, the Public Ivies offer some resources and perks that Ivy League schools don’t, including cheaper tuition and higher acceptance rates. While they may not have the “best of the best” reputation of the Ivy League, for many students, Public Ivies’ eclectic atmosphere  is more conducive and desirable for four or more years of learning.