Students have a lot to consider when choosing an online college to attend: accreditation, tuition rate, major and even whether the school is for-profit or nonprofit. Online college degree programs can be either for-profit or nonprofit, but what does that distinction mean for prospective students? On one hand, recent studies have largely suggested that student outcomes are more positive at nonprofit schools than at for-profit schools. On the other hand, though, for-profit schools wouldn’t exist if they didn’t fill a need in higher education, and programs that are accredited and well-respected can still offer students a quality education.

Benefits of Choosing Nonprofit Over For-Profit Schools

Though for-profit colleges have seen the most growth of any segment in higher education over the past few decades, a number of recent studies have questioned the value of attending these institutions. A study by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment reported that graduates of for-profit schools were more likely to be unemployed, earned less money and had higher amounts of student loans and higher loan default rates compared to graduates of nonprofit schools. Some for-profit schools have become the subject of lawsuits regarding their predatory lending practices. Prospective employers may give candidates with degrees from for-profit online schools less of a chance than other candidates applying for the same job, according to U.S. News & World Report.

All of this research isn’t to say that students should automatically cross for-profit colleges off their lists, or that these schools have free reign to operate however they please. They are regulated somewhat, and since July 2011, they have been required to publish graduation rates and job placement rates to provide greater transparency, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Factors to Consider When Selecting a For-Profit College

Some for-profit schools function as little more than degree mills, but others do an excellent job of educating students. When considering online college at a for-profit school, students need to do their homework before enrolling, Forbes reported. They need to know what types of degrees the school offers, whether the programs are accredited, where their student loans are coming from and whether the business has good reviews from students. For-profit colleges are best suited for students who know what they want to do in their career and, often, those who already have experience and an undergraduate education or those seeking vocational programs rather than academic college programs.

For many students, earning a degree at a nonprofit college is a safer bet than shelling out the considerable cost of attending a for-profit school, especially since outcomes at for-profit schools are questionable. However, for-profit schools are often skilled at retaining students, where nonprofit schools sometimes fall short. They can provide more flexibility than nonprofits can. The decision between for-profit and nonprofit schools is a personal one, and it helps to consider the student’s career goals, industry and current level of education and experience.