You’ve likely seen television commercials about going to college or received an email from a university about options for pursuing a degree. While not always the case, these tactics are typically associated with for-profit colleges.
Since 2010, nearly 40 percent of all for-profit colleges in the United States have closed, which includes some of the largest networks, such as ITT Tech. Some reasons for these closures included allegations of gouging students, worthless degrees, and deceptive enrollment strategies.
However, are all for-profit colleges intrinsically bad? Are they worse than universities? Is there a reason for someone to choose a for-profit college over a non-profit? This guide answers all of these questions and more.
What is a For-Profit College?
For-profit colleges, similar to nonprofit, are institutions of higher learning. However, for-profit colleges are owned and run by private businesses seeking to earn a monetary gain. Their goal is simple: provide a good education for students to generate a return for the school’s shareholders.
There are two types of for-profit colleges. The first type is similar to a non-profit college or university. These for-profit colleges provide a degree in various fields, such as criminal justice, education, or business.
These schools offer degree programs at all levels, from associate to master’s degrees. Typically, they provide an education to students online, but some offer both on-campus and online learning opportunities.
The other form of for-profit colleges provides technical training and education. Instead of degrees, students at these schools learn the skills needed to work in fields such as nursing, air conditioning repair, or dental assistance. Because of the hands-on learning, people consider these institutions to be trade or vocational schools. Unlike the other type of for-profit colleges, these usually have a physical location, due to the requirements of their programs.
For-profit schools have garnered a negative reputation for various reasons, such as debt creation and empty promises. Unfortunately, this reputation overshadows some benefits.
For-Profit Colleges, Private Universities, and Public Universities: The Differences
The key difference between for-profit colleges, private, and public universities is the way they use the money. When a college or university earns money through student tuition, they typically reinvest it back into the school to provide better services.
In contrast, a for-profit college’s goal is to pay back investors. Therefore, funds that would return to the school are going to investors, so they can profit off the success of the institution. Above all else, the main goal of a for-profit college is to generate revenue. In addition to paying investors, the school may also give bonuses to executives, perform marketing campaigns, and develop and implement recruitment strategies.
By comparison, non-profit public colleges and universities don’t have investors to answer to. Financial gain is not their main motivation. Public universities must take the money they earn from students and put it toward bettering the institution. This can result in a better overall education for students.
Private colleges are similar to public colleges in this regard. Technically, for-profit colleges are private institutions as well, but there is a significant difference between the two of them. A private college refers to a school that is non-profit and exempt from taxes.
Private schools receive less federal and state funding. This is why private college is typically more expensive than public school. The funds a private college or university receives are still reinvested into the school, similar to a public school.
For-Profit College: Pros and Cons
While the reputation of for-profit colleges has soured in recent years, they do have their benefits. Specifically, they are designed for working adults pursuing a career while still meeting their other responsibilities.
For-Profit College Advantages
Some pros of a for-profit college include:
- Fewer admissions requirements
- Flexible Schedules
- Practical programs
There are many admission requirements to get into a standard college or university. The best schools require you to submit your transcript, SAT scores, and meet a certain GPA threshold. That is just for your undergraduate degree. Graduate degrees require letters of recommendation, resumes, and an essay.
However, for-profit colleges do away with those requirements. They cater to people who may not necessarily perform well in school, giving them a second chance at meeting their academic goals.
Meeting the schedules of a non-profit school can be demanding, especially when it requires you to be on campus. Courses are only available at select times. If you have a job or other engagement that you must meet, you may not be able to take the course until a later date.
For-profit schools have online options for many of their degree programs, allowing students to study at their own pace. These institutions even offer accelerated programs, which allow you to graduate and earn your degree at a faster rate.
Students often overlook vocational and trade schools, but these institutions provide people with skills for very lucrative positions. Many for-profit trade schools provide training for positions in computer science, cosmetology, nursing, repair, or culinary arts. While degrees may not have a strong reputation when associated with for-profit schools, there are for-profit colleges that do have well-received certification programs.
For-Profit College Disadvantages
Unfortunately, for-profit colleges have several disadvantages associated with them as well. While they are a great fit for working adults who wish to advance their education, for-profit colleges come with a tarnished reputation, high costs, and various other obstacles.
Some disadvantages of for-profit colleges include:
- Low completion rate
- High price
- Negative reputation
For-profit colleges have a low completion rate. US News reports that only 30 percent of students who enroll in a for-profit college complete their degree program in less than five years. In comparison, 68 percent of students in private non-profit institutions and 59 percent of public college students graduate within the same time.
It is typical to pay a significant amount of money for a college education, but costs associated with for-profit colleges are much higher than other universities. It isn’t just the high cost associated with for-profit schools that make them difficult to afford.
If an agency recognized by the Department of Education does not accredit the school, you’re not allowed to receive grants or student loans. This may mean taking out a loan from another location, such as a bank, which could cause a significant amount of debt. Students who do attend for-profit colleges end up with much more debt than those who attend non-profit schools.
Quality of education is important, but the reputation of the school you graduate from also plays a significant part in your ability to find a job. For-profit schools have a negative reputation among employers, students, and various people in administrative and leadership positions.
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While all for-profit colleges aren’t bad, the stigma associated with them does make it more difficult for some people to find work in their chosen field. If this type of college is right for you, make sure your chosen college has a good reputation. Reach out to other professionals in the field and find out what they think of the school and its program.
Are For-Profit Schools Accredited?
No matter which institution of higher learning you choose to attend, it’s important to find out if it is accredited. Accreditation means a college or university has met the educational standards set by a reviewing agency.
There are two forms of accreditation in the United States, national accreditation and regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is typically given to non-profit schools that are academically oriented, while national accreditation is primarily given to for-profit schools that have technical, vocational, or career programs.
Most regionally accredited schools do not accept transfer credits from nationally accredited schools, save for rare exceptions, such as nursing. The reason behind this is national accreditation has a reputation of being far less academically stringent than regional.
This means that if you were to study at a nationally accredited, for-profit school, you couldn’t transfer to a non-profit college or university. Your credits would not be considered. This limits the academic potential and ability for students to study at a different university should they so choose.
While a large majority of for-profit colleges are only nationally accredited, there are several of them that are accredited regionally. Some of these include the University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, National American University, Walden University, Strayer University, and Capella University.
Even though these for-profit universities are regionally accredited, credits from them may not be accepted by a non-profit school. It is best to check with your chosen university or college to see which credits they accept from a for-profit college you’ve chosen to or wish to attend.
Reasons to Attend a For-Profit College
With many negative aspects associated with for-profit colleges, you may wonder if there is any reason to attend them at all. While for-profit colleges have a stigma associated with them overall, several still provide quality education and training for people who want a better career.
Here is a list of reasons to attend a for-profit college:
- Low grades
- Certification in a Trade
- Online Programs
- You’ve Found a School that Works for You
Not everyone excelled in high school, but that shouldn’t prevent you from finding success in adulthood. For-profit schools give you a second chance to study and learn without the fear of your old transcripts keeping you from your goals. If you don’t meet the test score or GPA threshold required for colleges and universities, consider a for-profit school instead.
Certification in a Trade
For-profit schools do have a positive reputation when it comes to trades and certifications. These are less academically-based skills and more hands-on. If you’re considering working as a plumber, nurse, or in air conditioning repair, you have a higher chance of finding success at a for-profit school.
Today, many colleges and universities offer online programs. However, not all of them are fully online or you may not be able to find a particular program that interests you. For-profit colleges offer online programs for a majority of their degrees. If you can’t find what you want to study at a non-profit school, consider for-profit college as an alternative.
You’ve Found a School that Works for You
No matter what university or college you wish to attend, it is always wise to do your research. Ask questions from professionals in your field. Reach out to people who’ve graduated from the program you wish to attend. Ask about courses, accreditation, and have them address whatever concerns you may have about the school.
For-profit colleges aren’t the best option for an academic program. The emphasis on earnings can sometimes lead to lower quality education, making them difficult to recommend. There are several alternatives, such as community colleges and bootcamps that are far less expensive and much more well-received.
However, there are situations when for-profit colleges may be the best or even the only means of pursuing higher education. If that is the case for you, do extensive research on the college, it’s reputation, accreditation, and the specific program you want to complete.
Several for-profit colleges still serve students well and give them opportunities to find success in their chosen career fields. With a little time, research, and the right questions, you can be one of them.
About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.