Students consider a number of factors when they decide which online college to attend. They think about tuition rates and the programs of study offered. They might not immediately think about the question of for-profit versus nonprofit schools, but this, too, is an important factor. Online college degree programs exist at both for-profit and nonprofit schools. There are significant differences between for-profit and nonprofit colleges as well as pros and cons of both options.

Understanding the For-Profit and Nonprofit Distinction

What distinguishes for-profit schools from nonprofit schools? As the name implies, for-profit schools are in business to make a profit. These schools are also referred to as “proprietary schools.” It might seem surprising, given the high cost of tuition and fees, but state schools and most other colleges with a high degree of name recognition are typically nonprofits.

There are some important possible differences between for-profit and nonprofit schools. While most nonprofit schools offer a wide range of degree programs at the undergraduate level as well as programs at the graduate and even doctoral level, many for-profit schools offer only certificate and graduate programs, Forbes reported. Most degree programs at nonprofit schools are accredited, but some for-profit programs are not.

Pros and Cons of For-Profit and Nonprofit Schools

Recent studies have suggested that nonprofit schools may be a better value for students. Not only are they traditionally more affordable than for-profit institutions, but they also result in better outcomes overall. Graduates of for-profit schools earn lower salaries than their peers who went to nonprofit institutions, and they are more likely to be unemployed, according to research by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment. Student loan debt is also a larger problem for graduates of for-profit colleges, who tend to have higher student loan balances and default at a more frequent rate than nonprofit graduates do. Employers tend to regard graduates of for-profit online schools less favorably than other job candidates, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Despite these potential arguments against attending a proprietary college, for-profit schools have grown in popularity for a reason. Their target audience – mostly experienced professionals seeking to advance their careers by earning a graduate degree – appreciates the flexibility that for-profit programs, designed for working students, typically provide. Though some are not accredited, many programs are, and they’re held to the same standards as degree programs at nonprofit schools. They also tend to succeed in retaining students after their first year of studies, which can be a difficult challenge for any school, nonprofit or for-profit.

Whether you should enroll in an online degree program at a for-profit or a nonprofit school is a personal decision that varies depending on your career objectives, your field of study and your current level of education and experience. Students should certainly consider research into for-profit school outcomes compared to nonprofit school outcomes in their decision, but they should also keep in mind that every school is unique – for-profit colleges included.