There are definite differences between attending a public university versus a private educational institution. A public university is state funded and usually has lower tuition than a private university. A private school is privately funded, and usually has higher tuition than a public university.
If you are a resident of a state, you save money by attending a school in your state's university system. If you are out of state, prepare to spend more money on tuition; however, it usually costs less money than a private university. One big bargain is the State University of New York (SUNY) system, which currently does not charge significantly more for out-of-state residents.
Other bargains can be found on Kiplinger's list of "100 Best Values in Public Colleges" available at Kiplinger.com. Private universities generally cost more than public universities, but with scholarships and financial aid, the overall expense may not be higher.
Many private universities have endowments, and they use these funds to attract students who are academically gifted or who will add to the diversity of their student population. It would be wise to compare the total costs of all colleges you are considering after you receive a financial aid package.
In addition to the financial aspect, there are other differences between a private and a public university. In times of economic distress, public universities may suffer from budget cuts from their state's legislature, which could translate into fewer course offerings or larger classes.
Private universities are not immune to budget cuts in economic downturns, but they may have more endowments to cover difficult times. Private universities sometimes offer more perks in terms of course offerings, food choices, dorm rooms, smaller class sizes, and more expansive celebrations.
Open house receptions may be more lavish in private colleges, but that's a superficial perk that doesn't affect the academic reputation of a university. Some parents believe a private university is superior academically to a public university, which is a myth.