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Monday, February 13, 2017
While there’s still a stigma against for-profits, the quality of education varies widely within the sector, experts say.
To some students, a for-profit online degree program seems like a risky option.
“I’ve seen a lot of reports for a lot of years about how for-profit schools have pretty much based their incomes on the ability for students to get federal financial aid,” says 30-year-old Matt Warner, a cybersecurity and information assurance master’s student at the nonprofit, online Western Governors University.
Though he’s personally hesitant about for-profits, he suggests prospective students focus more on factors such as cost and the degrees offered.
For California resident Carlos Ramirez, enrolling in an online doctoral program in health administration at the for-profit University of Phoenix was a no-brainer. Ramirez previously earned his bachelor’s and master’s at the school and was satisfied with its flexibility and student support.
Experts say in online education, a school’s classification as a for-profit versus nonprofit tells prospective online students little about overall quality.
“I think it’s less about the sector and more on how attentive the institution is to meeting the needs of students, to understanding best practices, to preparing their faculty for this robust learning experience,” says Karen Pedersen, chief knowledge officer for the Online Learning Consortium, an organization aiming to improve online higher education.
For-profit institutions have faced criticism in recent years for questionable recruitment practices, low graduation rates and high student debt. Though employers today are becoming more receptive to accepting candidates with for-profit, online degrees, there’s still a stigma around them, experts say.
[Discover how employers view for-profit online bachelor’s degrees.]
“It’s a distinction that has gotten a lot of press over the last many years, and I’m not sure that it’s warranted,” says Betty Vandenbosch, president of the for-profit Kaplan University, which delivers many degrees online.
When for-profit online degree programs started becoming more prevalent around 1999, they accepted almost anybody who applied, including those who weren’t sufficiently prepared for college, says Kathleen Ives, OLC’s CEO and executive director, who has served as faculty for both for-profits and nonprofits. That, she says, contributed to low graduation rates and high debt for those who dropped out.
That initial focus primarily on corporate profits “has tainted much of the for-profit sector. And not fairly, because the for-profit institutions are just as diverse as the nonprofit institutions,” says David Schejbal, dean of continuing education, outreach and e-learning at the University of Wisconsin—Extension, which coordinates continuing education and online programs across 26 statewide campuses.
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