Are For-Profit Online Colleges Legitimate?

If you are considering earning a degree and have been looking at For-Profit Online Colleges, you may wonder if the schools are legitimate. Ads for online colleges appear over and over on television stations and pop up in Internet browsing. They promise a quality education and tout such a reputation among employers that they say most people have a job shortly after graduation. Can they prove the claims, or are online, for profit colleges rip offs?

What is a For Profit School?

While all schools charge tuition, non-profit institutions put the profits from these charges back into the school, improving technologies, hiring quality faculty and upgrading curriculum as well as in funding research. For-profit schools are first and foremost businesses. They exist to make a profit for the owners. says that non-profits invest about 30 percent back into the educational process while for-profits spend up to half of the tuition you pay on advertising and marketing.

Negative Aspects of the Schools

There are some “cons” when considering For-Profit Online Colleges. The schools tend to have higher tuition than non-profits, but their graduation rates are lower. For-profits hire recruiters whose job it is to convince people they can afford the school. Virtually everyone who applies is accepted. This may mean that the bottom line for the school is money. Not education. Students often complete their programs inundated with debt, and many people in the four-year degree programs don’t even finish.

Related: Why Do Student Loan Default Rates Matter When Deciding on a College to Attend?

The exception to this is the two-year technical or vocational programs. Students in these tracks are three times more likely to graduate than students in comparable programs in community colleges.

Your credits from a for-profit online school may not transfer to another college. This may be because, though many of the schools are properly accredited, there are some whose accrediting organization is not recognized by the Department of Education because of low accrediting standards. These schools will not be eligible to offer federal student aid either. Distance says that the schools often advertise free laptops or tools, but the cost of those items is added to the tuition cost. In addition, they often are misleading or evasive in explaining extra charges on your bill.

Advantages to For Profit Colleges

The schools do have some points in their favor. First, the schools tend to concentrate on bare-bones degrees. That means many courses you might consider superfluous for your degree are not included in the for-profit curriculum.

This comes at a price; the emphasis on getting the student through the program quickly means you will miss out on many social aspects of college, but that is a characteristic of most online programs, whether they are affiliated with a traditional university or a for-profit school. Because they are businesses, the for-profit schools do well at selling their “brand,” which is a flexible program that caters to non-traditional students such as veterans, adults and at-risk students. These individuals might not find the degrees they want in the formats they require at not-for-profit institutions because the online components are an addendum to their academic programs. The for-profit schools specialize in selling flexible minimalist programs offered on evenings, weekends and part-time, and often have many degree programs to choose from. Because they accept most applicants, they offer second chances to students who did not succeed at a degree program the first time they tried.

If you have questions about whether or not the school you are considering is legitimate, try looking it up on the BBB website. There, you will see any complaints about the school’s business practices. Then, check its accreditation and its accrediting agency to make certain they are recognized by the Department of Education. Just being For-Profit Online Colleges does not mean the schools are not legitimate, but it does raise some questions you must answer for yourself before you enroll.