A Better Deal? Comparing Alumni’s Experiences with Online Degrees at For-Profit and Nonprofit Colleges
New Public Agenda Survey Fielded by SSRS
Online degree programs were common even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In the fall of 2019, about 18 percent of undergraduates were enrolled in what the U.S. Department of Education calls exclusively distance education courses. A disproportionate share of students studying online were enrolled in for-profit colleges. For-profit college students represented only 5 percent of all undergraduates that semester but nearly 63 percent of them were enrolled in exclusively distance education, compared to 13 percent of undergraduates at public nonprofit colleges and 21 percent of those at private nonprofit colleges.
Students will continue to choose online programs even as COVID-19 abates, raising the possibility that more people may enroll in for-profit colleges. To help understand whether nonprofit public and private colleges better serve online learners than for-profit colleges do, and to inform efforts to protect all students, this research compares the perspectives of alumni of online degree programs at nonprofit colleges versus alumni of online degree programs at for-profits. Findings are based on a representative survey of 217 nonprofit online alumni and 169 for-profit online alumni fielded March 17 to May 31, 2022.