Fewer than half of alumni of online for-profits report being very satisfied


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Dive Brief:

  • Just under half of alumni who attended an online for-profit institution reported being very satisfied with their college, compared to 70% of alumni who attended an online nonprofit, according to a new survey from Public Agenda, a nonprofit research and public engagement firm. 
  • When including respondents who were somewhat satisfied, the difference shrinks: 88% of for-profit and 97% of nonprofit online alumni reported being very or somewhat satisfied. Still, satisfaction with nonprofit programs outpaced for-profit programs by almost every metric researchers used, including having good instructors and offering effective guidance. Fewer than 4 out of 10 surveyed for-profit graduates said their degree was worth it. Among nonprofit alumni, that rate was nearly 6 in 10.
  • The only factor in which for-profits exceeded nonprofits was providing hands-on financial aid application support to students, surveyed graduates said. Despite this, 62% of for-profit alumni said it was difficult to make payments on student loans, compared to 44% of nonprofit graduates.

Dive Insight:

Online degree programs are an important part of making higher education accessible, but not all programs are performing equally, Andrew Seligsohn, president of Public Agenda, said in a statement

“Online for-profit programs are not delivering,” Seligsohn said. “Alumni are underwhelmed by the quality of education they received, especially compared to alumni of online programs at nonprofit public and private colleges.”

Graduates of online for-profits are cleanly divided on what they say their alma mater’s priorities are. Half said their college prioritized profits, while the other half said it prioritized educating students.

The split is less even among online nonprofit alumni. More than two-thirds of those alumni, 69%, reported their college prioritized educating students, while 31% said its main goal was to make money.

March through May last year, researchers surveyed 386 adults who had graduated from an online degree or certificate program within the past 15 years — 217 who attended a nonprofit institution and 169 who attended a for-profit college.

Across the board, a majority of respondents reported feeling confident prior to enrolling that their job prospects would improve post graduation. But nonprofits seemingly inspired more certainty from the beginning, with 78% of nonprofit alumni expressing such confidence compared to 61% of for-profit graduates. In the end, only 39% of for-profit online alumni said their degree was worth it, compared to 57% of nonprofit online alumni.

And accreditation played more of a role in choosing a college for nonprofit alumni than for graduates of for-profit programs, the survey found.

Among alumni of nonprofits, 72% recommended prospective students pay a great deal of attention to accreditation status, with 66% saying they did so when they were looking to enroll. Only 49% of for-profit alumni said they paid special attention to if a college was accredited, but 61% said prospective students should focus on it when they’re choosing where to go.


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