March 6, 2023
- 48% of alumni of online for-profit colleges say they were very satisfied, while 70% of alumni of online nonprofit colleges were very satisfied
- Just 39% of for-profit online alumni believe that getting their degree was worth it, compared to 57% of nonprofit online alumni
- Half of for-profit online alumni say their college prioritized profits, while most nonprofit online alumni believe their college prioritized students
- 62% of for-profit online alumni who used student loans to pay for college say it’s difficult to make payments, compared to only 44% of nonprofit alumni who say this
March 6, 2023 – About half of alumni of online for-profit colleges and universities say they were very satisfied with their college, compared with nearly three-quarters of alumni of online nonprofit colleges who say the same, according to a new Public Agenda survey of alumni of online degree programs.
The report features findings from a national survey, supported by Arnold Ventures, that asked alumni of online degree programs at for-profit and nonprofit colleges about their experiences, including their perceptions about the value of their degrees’, whether their college prioritized profits over students, and the affordability of their programs. This report builds on previous Public Agenda research about the experiences of for-profit colleges’ alumni, current students, and non-completers.
“Online degree programs are a vital part of Americans’ access to higher education, so it matters whether they are serving students and the public well,” said Andrew Seligsohn, President of Public Agenda. “Our new research shows that online for-profit programs are not delivering. Alumni are underwhelmed by the quality of education they received, especially compared to alumni of online programs at nonprofit public and private colleges. Students invest in their education, and they deserve a strong return on that investment—as does the public, which supports learners through federal student loans.”
“As more and more students continue to participate in online education, especially in the wake of the pandemic, policymakers must ensure those programs are delivering value,” said Kelly McManus, Vice President of Higher Education at Arnold Ventures. “Arnold Ventures believes this new research provides even more evidence for meaningful, bipartisan policy change to protect both students and taxpayers from low-quality options.”
- Fewer alumni of online programs at for-profit colleges are very satisfied with their programs, compared to alumni of online programs at nonprofits: Most online alumni of nonprofits were very satisfied (70%) with their college, while just 48% of for-profit online alumni were very satisfied.
- When asked about specific attributes of their college—including providing effective guidance, making tutors available, and having good instructors—more for-profit than nonprofit online alumni counterparts say their college fell short.
- The only attribute of their schools that more nonprofit than for-profit online alumni say their college fell short on was providing hands-on help with financial aid applications.
- Half of for-profit online alumni believe that their school prioritized profits: 50% of for-profit online alumni say their college prioritized making money, while 50% say it prioritized educating students
- By comparison, 69% of nonprofit online alumni say their school prioritized educating students and 31% say it prioritized making money.
- More nonprofit than for-profit online alumni think their degree has paid off. Nearly two-thirds of for-profit online alumni say it’s difficult to make student loan payments: Majorities of both nonprofit and for-profit alumni say they were confident before enrolling that their degree would improve their job prospects. But that majority was stronger among nonprofit online alumni (78%) than among their for-profit counterparts (61%).
- Just 39% of for-profit online alumni believe that getting their degree was worth it compared to 57% of nonprofit online alumni.
- Among those with loans, more for-profit online alumni (62%) say that making payments is difficult, compared to 44% of nonprofit online alumni.
- More nonprofit than for-profit online alumni had support from employers in learning about colleges and paying tuition: About half of nonprofit online alumni (52%) enrolled in college to get ahead in their current job, compared to 25% of for-profit online alumni. Instead, a 43% plurality of for-profit online alumni enrolled in order to change jobs entirely.
- More nonprofit online alumni (18%) learned about colleges and programs from an employer than did for-profit online alumni (8%).
- While student loans were the most common way that both groups paid for college, more nonprofit online alumni (25%) relied at least in part on employers to pay their tuition, compared to 10% of for-profit online alumni.
To read the full report, visit here.
Any references to the survey must be credited and linked back to Public Agenda. Questions or requests can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Public Agenda
Public Agenda is a research-to-action nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and sustaining a stronger democracy. Through research, public engagement, and communications, we amplify public voice in institutional and government decision-making. The organization was founded in 1975 by the social scientist and public opinion research pioneer Dan Yankelovich and former secretary of state Cyrus Vance.
Methodology in Brief
This report summarizes survey findings from representative samples of 217 adult Americans 18 years and older who completed a degree or certificate program from a public or private nonprofit college and 169 adult Americans 18 years and older who completed a degree or certificate program from a for-profit college. For both groups, alumni were included in the sample if they completed their degrees or certificates within 15 years of survey fielding. A separate report summarizes findings from representative samples of current for-profit college students, for-profit non-completers, for-profit alumni, and community college students. The survey was designed by Public Agenda and fielded March 17 to May 31, 2022 by SSRS. Respondents completed the survey online in English and Spanish.
The margin of error for the 217 nonprofit online alumni is ± 11.3 percentage points. The margin of error for the 169 for-profit online alumni is ± 12.4 percentage points. Margins of error for subgroups are larger.