Approximately 12 percent of the higher-education student population attends for-profit universities according to the U.S. Department of Education. As the for-profit education sector has grown over the years, it has become a major player in the education field. What exactly are for-profit schools and how do they differ from nonprofit institutions? Let’s explore this question further.
Simply put, for-profit universities are operated by privately owned, profit-seeking, tax-paying organizations; any profits may be returned to their investors, owners and shareholders. Nonprofit schools are private or state-funded, tax-exempt schools; any surplus funds must be filtered back into the organization.
Like their nonprofit counterparts, for-profit online colleges and campus-based for-profit universities may seek accreditation by a national or regional accrediting agency. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a searchable database to help you determine if a school is accredited and by which accrediting body. It is important to determine your prospective school’s accreditation status and type if you plan to transfer between colleges or attend another school in the future; sometimes credits do not transfer neatly between schools with different accreditations.
Yes, students who attend accredited for-profit colleges are eligible to apply for financial aid. Beginning June 2012, a new government regulation is slated to take effect that places new regulations on financial aid in for-profit universities and for some nonprofit programs, which are intended to benefit students. The “gainful employment” rule requires that colleges disclose information regarding the percentage of graduated students that have secured gainful employment.
Generally, for-profit online universities and campus-based for-profit universities follow a business-model approach, so they tend to base their program offerings on consumer demand. Therefore, degree programs may be more specialized or more focused on specific trades or vocations than nonprofit colleges. However, many for-profit schools also offer the same traditional degrees offered at nonprofit liberal arts schools.
Whether you’re considering a nonprofit or for-profit college, do your research to ensure that your choice is credible. Consider factors such as accreditation status, graduation rates and faculty expertise. Though the new gainful employment rules don’t go into effect until June 2012, many schools are already posting this information on their websites. You can also research current faculty to determine if they are considered leaders in their fields and investigate the types of publications and research they have under their belt.
For-profit online schools and traditional institutions have both similarities and differences. Regardless of the type of school you decide to attend, do your research before making your final decision to ensure that the college is credible, meets your educational expectations, and will help you reach your career and personal goals.