Leadership Insights

For-Profit Schools Versus Non-profit Schools

By The Room 241 Team July 26, 2011

Twenty years ago, a primary school teacher who wanted to earn her graduate degree had a long road ahead of her.

Typically, over several years, the teacher would need to take night courses from a graduate school in her area as well as continuing to teach during the day. In addition to prepping lessons for the next school day, she may also have had to care for and support a family. But other than quitting her job and attending graduate school full time, which she couldn’t afford to do, there was no other way to achieve her goals.

Technology Brings Changes 

Technology and big business together have changed that scenario with the advent of graduate degree programs earned through for-profit and non-profit online graduate schools.

Targeting non-traditional learners such as teachers with full-time positions and families by offering flexible learning programs, for-profit institutions advertise a lower student-teacher ratio and better instructors than a traditional graduate school because they are able to offer competitive salaries.  

For-profit institutions are run like businesses by profit-seeking corporations or private investors. As a result, they can be more responsive to their customers—their students– because if they don’t continue to innovate and improve, they will lose their revenue.

A Different Educational Experience

However, for-profit colleges have come under fire from critics for turning education into a product versus an experience. Critics charge that fast-paced curricula that don’t allow graduate school students time to learn necessary information results in poor academic quality. They also say that the instructors–while perhaps better paid–don’t always have the training and teaching experience professors at a traditional graduate school can offer. In addition, the cost of certificates or degrees from for-profit schools often is at least twice as much as it is from a private non-profit school, even while graduation rates are lower. 

Because most for-profit colleges derive three-fourths of their income from federal loans and offer little financial aid or post-graduation possibilities, many students who do graduate, do so with degrees corresponding to low-paying fields, such as art or education, that can’t sustain their high ratio of debt.

With no physical campus or classrooms and few ties to the community, for-profits have been known to close doors suddenly, leaving graduate school students in the midst of degree programs that won’t necessarily transfer to another institution. Online programs, however, have caught on: many non-profit graduate schools now offer online programs similar to those offered by for-profit institutions.

Self-Paced Programs

Commonly known as Distance Learning, an online graduate school allows students to work at their own pace which proponents say allows organized, independent and resourceful learners to flourish.  Supporters of online graduate schools believe that online programs teach students social networking respect and manners which are skills needed for success in today’s world of emails, conference calls and texting. They also say online learning better prepares students for communicating thoughts and questions in writing.

Developed with input from experienced, highly-educated full-time instructors, non-profit private or public online graduate school programs require creativity and engaging environments that utilize discussion boards, chat features, Podcasts and web resources.

Several traditional graduate schools now offer blended learning programs, where students may integrate online course with face-to-face course. Ninety percent of the time, credits received from online courses at a regionally accredited non-profit private or public university will transfer to a traditional university. Non-profit private or public online programs offer flexible learning and degrees similar to those offered by a traditional graduate school, such as a Masters of Arts in Education/Teacher Leadership or a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership/Curriculum and Instruction.

Online Learning and School Accreditation

As little as ten years ago, administrators might have passed on hiring or promoting an educator whose resume showed a degree earned via an online graduate school. But today, with the rise of the for-profit institutions and more than 90 percent of traditional graduate schools offering or planning to offer degrees online, these non-traditional degrees are becoming more widely accepted.

In some cases, a potential employee’s resume with an online degree from a recognized institution may carry more weight than an online degree awarded from a lesser known graduate school. But it’s important to note that whatever graduate school is listed on a resume, accreditation is important. During the accreditation process a school’s curriculum undergoes a rigorous evaluation by a U.S. Department of Education accreditation board, such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Student Expectations 

If accreditation is approved, the graduate school and its curriculum will be subject to regular reviews. For-profit, online and non-profit schools are all available for accreditation. Students who attend an accredited graduate school can expect several things: 

  • They will receive a quality graduate school education
  • Credits from one accredited  graduate school will transfer to another, whether it be for-profit, online or non-profit traditional
  • They will have the best opportunities for financial aid available

Provided the graduate degree was earned through an accredited institution, there is a growing opinion among employers that graduate degrees are of equal quality no matter the means or method of the program. In fact, many employers consider a job applicant who juggled a full-time career, a family and what was essentially an independent study graduate program as an asset: he or she will be a reliable, focused employee with a strong work ethic.

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