Nonprofit Versus For-Profit Schools: What’s the Difference?

Nonprofit Versus For-Profit Schools: What’s the Difference?

Online MBA Nonprofit, For Profit: What’s the Difference
Online MBA Nonprofit, For Profit: What’s the Difference

With more adults returning to school to obtain master’s or professional degrees, colleges are scrambling to enter the marketplace and put their degrees online. This sometimes means glitzy marketing and the promise of quick success overshadow the quality of the education you receive. Often, these lofty promises come from for-profit schools.

A school’s accreditation is one way to quickly tell whether it is reputable or not. It might sound like academic bureaucracy, but it can have a real impact on your bottom line. It is one of the major factors separating nonprofit and for-profit schools.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you are evaluating the difference between nonprofit vs. for-profit schools in the context of online programs like a master of business administration.

Nonprofit vs. For-Profit Schools: Accreditation

Colleges offering degrees online all promise some version of the same thing — convenient and flexible schedules, knowledgeable faculty, and degrees that will put you on the fast track to success. But, look a little closer and you’ll see information about accreditation in the fine print.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, accreditation is the recognition that an institution maintains standards requisite for its graduates to gain admission to other reputable institutions.

In a nutshell, accreditation means that a college or university meets educational standards set forth by independent commissions within particular disciplines. The most common accrediting bodies are regional or by academic area.

St. Bonaventure is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which covers mid-Atlantic region. Our business school is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Most other traditional, nonprofit colleges are accredited by the commission in their region or academic discipline. Obtaining that seal of approval is no joke.

Accreditation happens on a multi-year cycle with curriculum reviews and on-site visits from the accrediting boards, which are typically made up of faculty from member universities. It can take months or even years to prepare for an accreditation review and it’s something that’s taken very seriously.

Once you start getting into for-profit colleges, however, things start to become a little more complicated. For-profit colleges are often more focused on their bottom line than they are on the education their students and their quality suffers as a result.

These institutions can’t stand up to the rigor that accreditation requires and their reputations suffer as result. Of course, you rarely hear anything about lack of accreditation in their marketing and might not ever think to look for it on their websites or in brochures.

Nonprofit vs. For-Profit Schools: Transferring Credits

You might be thinking that accreditation is nice, but does it really matter when it comes to earning a master’s degree and transferring prior educational endeavors into degree requirements/credits?

The answer is unequivocally yes, and here’s why: most accredited, nonprofit schools do not accept transfer credits from their non-accredited, for-profit counterparts. No matter how many credits you have, they will not be worth anything on the next step of your educational journey.

Of course, you’ll need to check with the schools you are interested in to determine their specific policies, but more often than not you are likely to hear that these credits are not accepted.

The same thing goes for professional licensing. You may find that the licensing board for your desired profession only accepts transcripts from accredited colleges, or that you are not prepared well enough for the licensing exam with a degree from a for-profit university.

The decision then becomes whether the benefits of attending a for-profit, non-accredited institution outweigh the risks associated with that degree down the road. A quicker and less expensive degree is not worth anything if it will not help you achieve your professional goals.

The Bottom Line

Of course, not all nonprofit schools are accredited and not all for-profit schools are lacking accreditation. But that line in the sand is a good place to start digging deeper.

Colleges that are accredited will typically state it somewhere on their website, or you can easily find the answer by Googling the name of the school and “accreditation.” If you find a school that you are interested in but do not see anything about it being accredited, contact the school to verify before submitting an application.

Any admissions representative from the school should be able to give you the answer to that question pretty quickly.

The process of going back to school requires returning adults to get back into the swing of doing homework, asking questions, and reflecting on the information they learn. Research like this is a great way to start.

As the old saying goes knowledge equals power and that is definitely true when it comes to choosing what type of college to attend. Make an informed decision now and it will prove to be a worthwhile investment in the long run as you advance your career.