For-Profit vs. Nonprofit, Private vs. Public: What’s the Difference?

There are a lot of factors to consider while researching universities, especially if you are looking for a degree online. Knowing the differences between for-profit and nonprofit as well as public and private universities can help you determine which kind of school is right for you. Factors like cost, available programs and support services are important to everyone, but nontraditional students—like those who are working full-time jobs and/or have children—may look for other kinds of benefits too.

For-Profit Vs. Nonprofit Schools

The differences between for-profit and nonprofit may seem self-explanatory, but what does it mean for the students?

For-profit schools are generally more focused on professional skills and technical training required for specific occupations and industries such as culinary, art, design and technical institutes. They are run like a business; they seek to make money, not all of which is used for educational purposes. Because they seek a profit, they often have a less selective admissions process. They also have to report to their shareholders and boards. Their loans are generally at a higher interest rate than nonprofit universities.

Several for-profit schools have been under investigation lately for a variety of practices. They have the reputation of offering low-quality education with low graduation rates, while exploiting low-income students and creating higher student debts, according to a 2017 article from U.S. News. Lately, there has been some reform to promote student success and ensure that graduates can find jobs after school by collaborating with employers.

Nonprofit schools, on the other hand, are typically more traditional, academic institutions with a wide range of programs, and are funded by the government, tuition and endowments. They use the money they receive toward the curriculum, college operations and instruction and operate to ensure student success by offering programs that support students and faculty.

Nonprofit universities can offer the typical on-campus experience, and therefore more community for their student body and faculty. Because they may be more reputable in the community, they may have more job connections with employers seeking local students. Job prospects also come from the fact that they are more likely to be graduating from a regionally accredited school —something many employers look for in their new hires. Regional accreditation is also important for transfer credits, as many courses taken through regionally accredited universities are more likely to be accepted at a traditional university.

Nonprofit Schools: Private or Public?

If going the more traditional route of nonprofit schools, there is still the choice of private or public. But what is the difference?

Private schools are privately funded or funded by endowment and donations as well as tuition; they tend to have more selective admittance practices, meaning they can offer a smaller class size and therefore more individual attention for students. Private universities usually have a more difficult curriculum; however, they tend to offer more student resources too.

The cost of going to a public university can be lower than private universities because they are federally funded, but it is good to note that public universities tend to offer even lower tuition for in-state residents. Because they have higher admittance rates than private schools, public schools have larger class sizes, but as a result, can have a larger sense of community and diversity than private schools.

By the Numbers

Take a brief glance at the numbers to see the tuitions and graduation rates of different types of universities.


For-profit universities—$16,000

Public four-year in-state universities—$8,655

Public four-year out-of-state universities—$21,706

Private nonprofit four-year universities—$29,056

*According to USA News and USA Today

Graduation Rates:

For-profit universities—42%

Private universities —65%

Public universities —57%

*According to

Remember, the right university is different for every student based on their desires in a school. Don’t be discouraged by the listed tuition cost until you have seen what else you will be expected to pay for and, more importantly, what kind of financial aid the school can offer. Looking for lower tuition rates and a larger student body? Look at in-state public universities. If you desire an Ivy League reputation that provides more one-on-one time with faculty, try a private university. Each student will have their own ideal option based on what factors are most important to them.

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