Survey: Few Alumni From Online For-Profit Institutions Say Their Degree Was Worth It

A new report reveals that half of surveyed online graduates who attended for-profit institutions believe their schools prioritized profits over students.
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  • Less than half of surveyed graduates of online for-profit degree programs were very satisfied with their institution.
  • More than 1 in 4 of these graduates believe employers view online degrees less favorably than in-person degrees.
  • These survey results mirror earlier findings showing graduates' dissatisfaction in for-profit degree programs also exists offline.

Graduates of online for-profit degree programs aren't too convinced that the benefits of their programs outweighed all the costs, according to a new report from Public Agenda.

The report surveyed 386 graduates of online for-profit and nonprofit degree programs and found that just 39% of online for-profit alumni say getting their degree or certificate was well worth it. Nearly an equal percentage of these alumni (37%) say it wasn't really worth it, while a quarter (25%) say their program's worth remains to be seen.

By comparison, 57% of graduates of online nonprofit programs believe in the worth of their degree.

Graduates of online for-profit degree programs are also significantly less likely than those of online nonprofit programs to report satisfaction with their institutions.

While a notable 48% of online for-profit alumni said they were very satisfied with their school, a much larger 70% of online nonprofit alumni said the same.

Percentage of Alumni From Online Degree Programs Who Say They Were "Very Satisfied" With Their School

Prior to enrolling and discovering the worth of their degree, 61% of online for-profit graduates were confident that attending their school would greatly improve their job prospects. Now, 27% of these graduates believe employers view online degrees less favorably than in-person degrees.

"Our new research shows that online for-profit programs are not delivering," said Andrew Seligsohn, president of Public Agenda, in a press release. "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."

This is far from the first time for-profit degree programs have come under fire for providing their graduates with a low return on investment (ROI). An earlier report from this year found that graduates' dissatisfaction with for-profit programs also exists in person, with 37% saying their degree was not really worth the cost.

And throughout 2021 and 2022, several for-profit institutions were found to have defrauded and misled their students about the success they would find after graduation, leading the Department of Education to forgive their student debt.

Half of surveyed graduates from online for-profit institutions also say they believe their school prioritized making money over the education of their students (50%).

As an increasing number of students continue to seek online education options for the flexibility they provide, institutions will need to ensure that they are providing programs that are of value to their students.