Search Programs

2023 Nonprofit Online Colleges and Universities

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 8/29/2023

Nonprofit schools invest in the student experience rather than turning a profit. OnlineU has advertising partnerships with numerous online nonprofit colleges and universities, and we’ve highlighted several of them on this page. Since these accredited online schools are nonprofit, each receives funding from the government, tuition, and endowments that they put back into the school to support its curriculum, instruction, and other college operations. Some are public, while many others are private and faith-based institutions

Nonprofit colleges and universities are often more readily trusted than for-profit schools because of their transparency, accountability, and fiduciary responsibility — factors an accrediting agency looks for when considering conferring a favorable accreditation status.

Find an Online Degree:

Highlighted Online Nonprofit Schools

Arizona State University

  • Annual Tuition: $19,398 - $29,428
  • Locations: Tempe (AZ) (and 4 others)
  • Accreditation: HLC

As the largest university in the U.S., Arizona State University (ASU) is a public institution known for its extensive online programming. It currently serves 63,000 students globally through ASU Online, offering over 300 online degrees and certificates from the bachelor's level to online doctorates. These online degrees provide the same rigor and curricula as those available on campus. Areas of interest throughout ASU's 16 schools include behavioral sciences, business, computer science and technology, health and wellness, law, nursing, and sustainability. ASU Online hosts programs designed to help students develop the highly sought-after skills necessary to keep pace in today's evolving job market.

ASU is also known for its academic innovation. For example, its Academic Enterprise works to advance knowledge worldwide through research and scholarship through a community of educational leaders. Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize-winners, MacArthur Fellows, and National Academy members comprise its faculty, which in turn, helps produce graduates who become government leaders, entertainers, educators, researchers, and organizational leaders.

Southern New Hampshire University Online

  • Annual Tuition: $9,600
  • Locations: Manchester (NH)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

New England's Southern New Hampshire University Online (SNHU) is a private institution serving over 164,000 students, with many attending remotely through its robust online curriculum. It currently has over 200 online degrees and certificates available that students can complete from anywhere. SNHU's online programming is diverse and includes popular fields such as business, criminal justice, education, engineering, health, and technology. Online programming is available from the associate level through the master's level and includes accelerated bachelor's-to-master's degrees. SNHU has a generous transfer policy that accepts up to 90 previously earned credits for bachelor's degrees.

Some of the nation's largest employers, such as Amazon, partner with SNHU to increase access to affordable higher education. If you are an Amazon employee, you can earn one of more than 100 career-focused degrees and receive free tuition for up to six classes annually. SNHU also partners with the U.S. Military and the United Service Organization to provide scholarship opportunities to service members and their families and help smooth the transition from military to student life.

Creighton University

  • Annual Tuition: $41,400
  • Locations: Omaha (NE)
  • Accreditation: HLC

With campuses in Omaha, Nebraska, Phoenix, Arizona, and the Dominican Republic, Creighton University (CU) is a private, Roman Catholic institution serving approximately 4,000 graduate students. It offers over 50 online degrees, certificates, and professional development programs at the master's and doctoral levels in various fields of study: business, education, law & negotiation, health & health sciences, humanities, ministry, and science & research. Unique online master's degree majors cover bioethics, financial planning and financial psychology, integrative health and wellness, and paramedicine. 

CU was founded by the Jesuit order. It aims to help shape students holistically beyond the classroom walls. CU supports students' emotional, spiritual, social, and intellectual development, emphasizing justice. It is one of 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S. that comprise the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.

Liberty University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,700
  • Locations: Lynchburg (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC and TRACS

Virginia's Liberty University (LU) is a private, Evangelical Christian institution serving approximately 97,000 students, many remotely. It has over 800 online degrees at all levels and almost 100 online undergraduate and graduate certificates. With many online programs available, LU can offer many study areas, including criminal justice, business, nursing, Homeland Security, education, sports management, biblical studies, and addiction counseling. While most coursework may be completed remotely, some online programs may require one- or two-week on-campus intensives.

LU's mission is "Training Champions for Christ." To support this mission, online undergraduates must complete at least three courses (nine credits) of faith-based learning as part of LU's core general education curriculum, regardless of major. Additionally, it's important to note that LU is not LGBT-friendly. According to its 2022-2023 Student Code, "statements and behaviors that are associated with LGBT lifestyle are prohibited."

Colorado State University Global

  • Annual Tuition: $8,400
  • Locations: Greenwood Village (CO)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Colorado State University Global (CSU Global), based in Aurora, is a public institution that opens its doors to 9,600 students. Distance learners can choose from over 50 online programs at the bachelor's, master's, and certificate levels that are career-relevant. Fields of study include accounting & finance, business, criminal justice, education, management & leadership, and marketing & communications. CSU offers low tuition at an average annual undergraduate cost of $12,351 and boasts that it has yet to raise its tuition in over ten years. 

CSU Global believes in supporting its distance learners through student resources available remotely. This includes access to career coaching, 24/7 academic support, and free tutoring. Additionally, each online student is assigned a unique Student Success Counselor to support them through every step of their educational journey by checking in periodically to see how they are doing and if they need help. These counselors act as a single point of contact. They can help connect students to degree planning and financial aid resources.

University of the Southwest

  • Annual Tuition: $16,200
  • Locations: Hobbs (NM)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Built on a "foundation of Christian values and a servant leadership philosophy," the University of the Southwest (USW) in Hobbs, New Mexico, is a rural, Hispanic-serving, faith-based institution serving almost 1,100 students. Many enroll throughout its 40+ online bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree programs. Degrees are primarily in business, healthcare, and education. Students can choose from online bachelor's degrees in business administration in accounting, e-commerce, global business management, hospitality management, and sports management. They can move on to earn MBAs in many of the same fields, or data analytics, project management, and public administration, or design their programs.

USW uniquely offers all its online students free Virtual Healthcare in partnership with HealthiestYou by Teledoc. This includes $0 copays for teledoc appointments, second opinions, behavioral health, back care, and dermatology through the HealthiestYou App. This program helps increase access to affordable healthcare for students who may otherwise find it difficult.

Saint Leo University Online

  • Annual Tuition: $23,750
  • Locations: St. Leo (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Catholic Saint Leo University Online (SLU) is rooted in Benedictine values. It's a private liberal arts institution based in Florida, serving approximately 10,000 students. SLU offers over 65 online degrees at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels in business, criminal justice, education, health professions, information technology, psychology, and social work. Online bachelor's degrees include accounting, information systems, cybersecurity, emergency management, and software engineering.  

SLU is very diverse. While less than half identify as White, 20% are unknown, 23% are Black, and 18% are Hispanic. Online programs foster inclusion and a sense of community through online clubs and organizations and the ability to network and communicate with peers from around the globe through WorldWide Student Life. These remote opportunities include Community Service Club, Omega Nu Lambda Online Honor Society (invitation only), WorldWide Student Advisory Council, The Voice: WorldWide Student Newsletter, and Catholic Mass WorldWide.

California State University - Northridge

  • Annual Tuition: $18,857
  • Locations: Northridge (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Southern California's California State University - Northridge (CSUN) in Los Angeles is one of 23 campuses in the state's public university system. It's a Hispanic-serving institution in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, primarily offering online master's degrees to its 5,000+ graduate students through Tseng College. CSUN's limited selection of online graduate majors includes applied behavioral analysis, diverse community development leadership, engineering management, music industry administration, and social work. An online bachelor's degree in public sector management and an online second bachelor's degree in nursing are also available. 

Students participate in online learning as part of a cohort. This can help students build community and develop life-long relationships while working together through their studies. While most coursework can be completed remotely, classes include live online sessions so students can participate in virtual discussions with instructors and peers. However, recordings are available for students who need to review lessons or catch up on a day's work.

Regent University Online

  • Annual Tuition: $18,620
  • Locations: Virginia Beach (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Regent University Online (RU), in military-friendly Virginia Beach, Virginia, is a private, Christian institution serving just over 10,000 students, including those who attend remotely. It offers approximately 400 online degree and certificate programs at the associate through doctoral levels. RU's online programming is rich and includes fields of study such as communication studies, leadership studies, business, criminal justice, ministry, professional studies, human services, and law. Courses last eight weeks so that students may finish quickly. RU also has a generous transfer policy that accepts up to 90 previously earned credits, saving time and money.

RU is known for being a military-friendly school that welcomes service members and their families to attend. It accepts military transfer credits and offers discounts for service members, their dependents, and spouses — military spouses may be eligible to receive up to $4,000 through the Military Spouse Career Advancement Account Scholarship. As a Christian institution, RU is known for having strict student policies. It is not an LGBT-friendly school, as outlined in its student handbook.

National University (formerly named Northcentral University)

  • Annual Tuition: $18,095
  • Locations: Prescott Valley (AZ)
  • Accreditation: HLC and WSCUC

San Diego's Northcentral University (NCU) was a private, distance-only institution that merged with private National University (NU) in 2022. NCU continues as NU, which picked up all of its online programming and serves over 18,600 students. NU offers 119 online degree programs at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels — along with 58 certificate and credential programs. Areas of study include teaching & education, business & marketing, healthcare & nursing, social science & psychology, engineering & technology, law & criminal justice, arts & humanities, and science & math. 

Courses last four to eight weeks, so students can complete one class per month and finish early. This schedule can also support a healthy work-life balance. For example, students can complete NU's online RN-BSN program in as few as 11 months due to four- and eight-week courses taken back-to-back and year-round enrollment. Earning an online MBA may take as little as a year due to a similar pace and schedule.

Western Governors University

  • Annual Tuition: $6,670
  • Locations: Salt Lake City (UT)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU and DEAC

Western Governors University (WGU) in Salt Lake City, Utah, is a private, distance-only institution serving over 150,000 students globally. It has online degrees in business, education, information technology, and health & nursing at the bachelor's and master's levels and post-masters certificates. Majors include human resource management, health information management, supply chain and operations management, science education, teaching, BSN-to-MSN, and software engineering. 

WGU uses a competency-based education structure and designs its online programming so students can advance at their own pace — some finish online bachelor's degree programs in 42 months or less. As students finish one course, they automatically proceed to the next one when they've proven their knowledge through projects, papers, or other assessments. WGU also accepts most lower-division transfer credits from accredited community colleges, four-year colleges, and universities.

Baylor University

  • Annual Tuition: $47,364
  • Locations: Waco (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Baylor University (BU) in Waco, Texas, is a private, Baptist institution serving almost 21,000 students, with many attending remotely. It has 20 online master's and doctoral degrees. Areas of study include nursing, education, theology, public health, computer science, and business. An online PhD in social work is also available. While students can complete most coursework online, many of BU's online graduate programs require fieldwork and scheduled on-campus immersions. Some programs may also be offered in a hybrid format. An admission advisor can help clarify availability. 

BU is recognized as an R1 research institution by Carnegie for offering doctoral programs and having very high research activity. BU is the only institution with an explicit identity as a Protestant Christian university to receive this honor. Research fields include juvenile justice, STEM, human trafficking, and global children's poverty. BU is among the top 7% of the National Merit Scholars program and one of only 10% of U.S. colleges and universities, with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, the nation's oldest academic honor society.

Chicago School of Professional Psychology Online

  • Annual Tuition: $21,934
  • Locations: Multiple Locations
  • Accreditation: HLC and WSCUC

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology Online is a private institution with campuses in Illinois, California, Texas, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C., primarily serving graduate students. It offers over 30 online programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels, including six online PhD programs. Majors include criminology, psychology, behavioral economics, counseling, clinical psychopharmacology, and organizational leadership. While most coursework is completed online, some programs may periodically require immersive residencies to be completed on campus.

The Chicago School uniquely combines four core elements in its approach to learning: education, innovation, community, and impact, to help arm students with practical and solutions-oriented training for the classroom and beyond. As such, it has earned the distinction of being one of only eleven universities inducted into the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society and is recognized by the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

Cleveland State University

  • Annual Tuition: $15,370
  • Locations: Cleveland (OH)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Ohio's Cleveland State University (CSU) is a public institution serving over 14,000 students on-campus and via distance learning. Remote learners enroll throughout CSU's 26 online bachelor's and master's degrees and certificate programs. Fields of study include business, healthcare, education, social work, and law. Majors include RN-BSN, business administration, healthcare management, cybersecurity and data privacy, forensic nursing, and educational leadership. Courses are asynchronous, allowing for varying schedules and availability. Online student services include tutoring, advising, academic support, library resources, and writing assistance.

CSU partners and collaborates with over 250 local and national organizations to support its academic programs and research. These organizations include the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, NASA Glenn Research Center, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and the City of Cleveland. Through CSU's partnership with Northeast Ohio College of Medicine, students may have a unique opportunity for early admission to medical school via the NEOMED-CSU Partnership for Urban Health.

Florida State University

  • Annual Tuition: $18,786
  • Locations: Tallahassee (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee is a public institution with over 44,000 students, including distance learners. It has online degrees at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels through Distance@FSU. FSU offers a robust lineup of online majors, including computer science, criminology, civil engineering, business law, information technology, public administration, social work, and systems engineering. Several online certificates are also available for students seeking specific job skills to increase career advancement opportunities, such as law enforcement intelligence, institutional research, multicultural marketing communication, and project management.

According to the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard, FSU has a high 81% graduation rate, a low average annual cost of $9,600 for undergraduates, higher than average median earnings at $57,000, and a 94% retention rate. It is also racially diverse, with 58% of students identifying as White, 23% as Hispanic, and 8% as Black. Students represent 130 countries globally.

Holy Family University

  • Annual Tuition: $31,040
  • Locations: Philadelphia (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Pennsylvania's Holy Family University (HFU) is a Roman Catholic institution sponsored by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth with campuses in Philadelphia and Newtown and online that serve about 3,000 students. It has more than a dozen online degrees at the bachelor's and master's levels, one online doctoral degree program, several online certificate programs, and one online certification program. Areas of study include business, education, nursing, psychology, and radiologic science. Accelerated online master's degrees are available in accountancy, education, and teaching. 

HFU has a low 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio which can be ideal in the online learning environment. Smaller class sizes promote interaction between students, instructors, and peers. Students can receive individualized instruction as instructors have the opportunity to learn more about their strengths and areas for improvement while progressing through their degree program. These benefits help build community and trust as students feel more supported and engaged.

Keuka College

  • Annual Tuition: $33,048
  • Locations: Keuka Park (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Located on the shores of New York's Finger Lakes, Keuka College (KC) in Keuka City is a small private institution serving 1,300 students, many of whom attend remotely. It has five online bachelor's and master's degrees in business management, social work, and literacy. Distance learners can finish these programs more quickly than traditional on-campus programs. For example, a full-time online student may complete an online bachelor's degree in business management in as little as two years. KC accepts transfer credits from other accredited institutions and awards up to 90 credits for prior knowledge and work experience. 

KU's Office of Inclusion & Belonging strives to support students of color, the LGBT community, students of all secular and religious identities, and students of all underrepresented identities. Its academic focus areas include intercultural engagement, interfaith management, and international support. In support of inclusion and diversity, KU's clubs and teams have the Multicultural Student Association, PRIDE for members of the LGBT community, and the Interfaith Student Leadership Team.

Rockhurst University

  • Annual Tuition: $38,760
  • Locations: Kansas City (MO)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Kansas City's Rockhurst University (RU) in Missouri is a private, Catholic institution in the Jesuit tradition, and it hosts approximately 1,000 graduate students. RU offers ten online master's degrees in data analytics, nursing, and education and several certificates. The online Master of Science in Nursing includes several concentrations, such as adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, nursing leadership, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Online EdDs in Education and Leadership include healthcare education, higher education, and organizational leadership. 

RU strives to support its students including its distance learners. Many student resources include counseling and psychological services, career development, academic advising, success coaching, and supplemental instruction. RU also has a low 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio and small class sizes, which can help instructors provide individualized instruction, foster student engagement, and help build community.

Saint Joseph's College of Maine

  • Annual Tuition: $36,720
  • Locations: Standish (ME)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Roman Catholic Saint Joseph's College of Maine (SJCME) in Standish is a private institution with 1,500 students throughout its liberal arts programs. It offers online associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees in nine areas of study, including business, education, nursing, sport and exercise science, and theology. Majors include finance, human resource management, radiologic science, health information management, theology, and RN-BSN. Fast-track accelerated, and dual degree programs are available in health administration, nursing, and business, designed to save time and money. 

SJCME is a member of the Maine Campus Compact, a coalition of 18 member campuses committed to reinvigorating the civic mission of higher education. It also participates in community-based learning. This experiential instructional strategy gives students opportunities to help solve problems within their communities as part of their studies.

The University of Findlay

  • Annual Tuition: $35,410
  • Locations: Findlay (OH)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of Findlay (UF) in Ohio is a private institution affiliated with the Church of God. It hosts a total of 5,000 students — almost a third of which participate in distance-only education through online degree programs at the master's and doctoral levels. UF alosts hosts one online bachelor's degree completion program in business management. Majors include business administration, education, health informatics, and radiologic sciences. UF also offers an online Doctor of Pharmacy, one of the most popular majors. Distance learners can access the same student resources as their on-campus peers, such as tutoring, the library, advising, and tech support. 

UF offers merit scholarships for first-time freshmen who meet eligibility requirements. Scholarship awards are based on GPA and range from $15,000 (2.75 GPA) to $21,000 (3.95 GPA). Three additional scholarships are offered, and the financial aid office can help determine if they are available to online students. In 2022, over $51 million in scholarships and financial aid were awarded to 98% of UF students.

University of Indianapolis

  • Annual Tuition: $30,976
  • Locations: Indianapolis (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Rooted in the United Methodist faith, the University of Indianapolis (UIndy) in midwestern Indiana is a private institution with 5,000 students and small class sizes of 12-18 students. It has 27 online degrees and certificate programs at the associate, bachelor's, and master's levels that students can complete anywhere in the world. Areas of study include applied behavioral sciences, arts & sciences, business, education, engineering, health sciences, and nursing. Popular online majors are in nursing and include RN-BSN, MSN, BSN-DPN, DPN, and graduate certificates in nurse leader and nurse educator. Accelerated online degree programs are available in management, early childhood education, and public health education & promotion. 

UI aims to help relieve some of the burdens of student debt by offering scholarships to eligible students. First-year students are automatically considered for merit scholarships when they apply. Students must show high GPAs and leadership potential and must have completed a strong college preparatory program in high school. Awards range from $10,000 annually to full annual tuition. Other scholarships include departmental, alum legacy, needs-based, and specialty scholarships. An admissions or financial aid advisor can answer questions and help you.

Walsh University

  • Annual Tuition: $31,045
  • Locations: North Canton (OH)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Ohio's Walsh University (WU) in North Canton is a private, Catholic institution with 2,300 students, of which about half attend remotely. These distance learners enroll in over 40 online bachelor's and master's degrees in areas including aviation, business, communication, computer science, healthcare, counseling, education, and nursing. In addition to accepting transfer credits from other accredited colleges and universities, WU awards credits for life and work experience through a formal assessment process, and students may also earn credits through examination. These opportunities can help students save time and money by allowing them to utilize existing skills and knowledge.

WU believes that as a Catholic university, it has a responsibility to confront the significant problems of society and culture, as outlined in Pope John Paul II's Ex Corde Ecclesiae, his call to Catholic higher education. As a university accepting students of all faiths, WU continues to carry out Pope John Paul's wishes by creating leaders through the service of others. It requires all students to engage in volunteer work as part of its curriculum.

Bryant & Stratton College Online

  • Annual Tuition: $14,834
  • Locations: Orchard Park (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Bryant & Stratton College — located in Orchard Park, New York — is a two-year, private college that recently changed its status to be a nonprofit institution. According to the most recent federal data, 6,211 undergraduate students are attending online, with approximately 16% graduating on average. Bryant & Stratton offer robust online degree offerings at the bachelor's and associate levels. Offerings include nine fully online bachelor's degrees and sixteen online associate programs that cover five main areas of study: business, healthcare, technology, education, and legal services. They also offer a wide range of online certificates. 

Distance learners may earn their degree in just under 20 months through the school's accelerated online learning format. While students only take two classes at a time, they finish these courses in less than eight weeks. If students maintain this full-time schedule, they can graduate earlier than most traditional students while still participating in real-time interactions with both peers and professors. In addition to this advantage, fully remote students at Bryant & Stratton can access tutoring, tech support, and career-matching services, to name a few of the resources available.

Find an Online Degree:

What Is a Nonprofit College?

Nonprofit colleges are designed to not generate investment returns for investors. Instead, the institution uses its funding to cover current and future operating expenses, which include salaries and facilities.

A board of trustees governs each nonprofit school with the goal of making sound financial decisions for the institution while also meeting student needs.

Both private and public nonprofit colleges receive government funding through student financial aid awards, contracts for goods and services, and research grants. Additionally, nonprofit schools rely on private endowments, donations, and revenue from sports programs to fund academic programs and activities. A board of trustees governs each nonprofit school with the goal of making sound financial decisions for the institution while also meeting student needs.

Types of Nonprofit Colleges

Nonprofit schools can be either public or private. Two-year nonprofit colleges — including community colleges — typically offer associate degree and certificate programs. Many students transfer these credits to a nonprofit four-year college or university to complete a bachelor's and possibly continue for a graduate degree.

Most nonprofit institutions offer distance education and online learning, which may be more convenient for students who want to attend part time while juggling other responsibilities. Nonprofit public schools tend to offer a wider range of academic programs than nonprofit private colleges.

What Is a For-Profit College?

For-profit colleges are privately owned and funded by companies and investors. Most profits don't go back into the school but instead go to various stakeholders who have invested in the school.

For-profit schools aren't required to reinvest as much in operations as nonprofit schools. Instead, they invest a large portion of their money in marketing, advertising, and lobbying against funding restrictions.

Prospective students are often attracted to for-profit colleges because many offer both on-campus and online programs in popular fields such as business, information technology, and healthcare. In fact, they were initially at the forefront of online college education. Many also offer accelerated programs allowing students to finish their education in less than the average time. 

What Is the Difference Between a Nonprofit and a For-Profit College?

There are several major differences between these types of colleges, namely how they receive and distribute money, their affordability, and their general reputation.

Funding for Nonprofit and For-Profit Colleges

The biggest difference between these two types is where they get their money and how they use it. Here is the percentage of funding that each type of college receives from tuition and fees versus government sources, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):

Public nonprofit
  • 20% from tuition and fees
  • 43% from government sources
Private nonprofit
  • 34% from tuition and fees
  • 14% from government sources
Private For-profit
  • 93% from tuition and fees
  • 2% from government sources

When it comes to spending money, nonprofit schools are statutorily barred from keeping profits beyond operating costs, whereas for-profit schools are businesses.

Nonprofit and For-Profit Affordability

In the academic year 2020-2021, tuition and fees cost an average of $9,400 at four-year public schools compared to $18,200 at private for-profit colleges. But it's worth noting that private nonprofit colleges are the most expensive options at $37,600 in 2020-2021. Additionally, the low costs of public schools only apply to students who qualify for in-state tuition rates.

Students are at greater risk of defaulting on student loans from costlier programs. According to the Brookings Institution, for-profit schools enroll only 10% of students, yet these students account for about 50% of loan defaults. In addition, 71% of students enrolled in for-profit degree programs take out federal loans compared to only 49% of nonprofit degree-seekers.

What's more, not all school types can offer the same financial aid options. Students can apply for financial aid to fund a for-profit education and may qualify for federal loans and Pell grants, but they're not eligible for federal work-study programs. In addition, applicants from for-profit institutions may not be considered for private scholarships.

Reputation Differences Among Nonprofit and For-Profit Colleges

Justified or not, employers may perceive the quality of nonprofit and for-profit colleges differently. Some for-profit colleges are considered "diploma mills" with a reputation for churning out degrees of dubious value.

Some for-profit colleges are considered "diploma mills" with a reputation for churning out degrees of dubious value.

Employers may be skeptical of a for-profit school's academic standards because these colleges aren't required to reinvest their money back into their programs. The Century Foundation reports that public universities spend $1.42 on student instruction for every tuition dollar collected, and private universities spend $0.84. But for-profit schools allocate just $0.24 from every tuition dollar on instruction.

Should You Choose a Nonprofit or For-Profit College?

Many criteria factor into a college decision, and some will matter more to you than others. Think through this as you decide between nonprofit and for-profit schools: You may appreciate nonprofit colleges more if you want a broad, theoretical education with opportunities to engage in student activities with your peers. You might prefer the for-profit route if you're looking to learn specific job skills to potentially enter the workforce more quickly. 

You can also consider the factors we list below, which are closely related to the differences between college types that we described above.


Nonprofit colleges: Tuition rates are most affordable at public nonprofit schools and least affordable at private nonprofit colleges.

For-profit colleges: In addition to costing more than public schools, students at for-profit colleges are much likelier to take on student loans and default on them.

Quality and reputation

Nonprofit colleges: Researchers at the think tank, Third Way, consider most public four-year institutions (61.8%) to be low-price, high-quality institutions, while the majority (71.8%) of private nonprofit schools have a high price and are of high quality. 

For-profit colleges: A study conducted by the think tank, New America, found that most Americans still don't trust that for-profit colleges are worth the cost. And by Third Way's criteria, nearly 80% of for-profit colleges are high-cost and low-quality institutions.

Graduation rate

Nonprofit colleges: Data from the NCES shows that between 2013 and 2019, 63-68% of bachelor's students graduated from nonprofit schools within six years.

For-profit colleges: During the same period, the six-year bachelor's graduation rate was 26% at for-profit schools, partly thanks to their misleading recruitment practices. However, the associate degree graduation rate was significantly better at for-profit colleges.

Accreditation for Nonprofit Colleges

Most nonprofit schools are institutionally accredited (which used to be called regional or national accreditation). This means that the school passed an independent accreditor's review of its faculty, curriculum, administration, and services. Accreditation is necessary for a school to receive federal funding and for its students to use federal financial aid at the institution.

You can find accredited schools by searching the Department of Education's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Financial Aid for Nonprofit Colleges

You'll typically be eligible for federal financial aid if you attend an accredited nonprofit college online. Forms of aid might include grants, work-study programs, and loans just like your in-person peers. However, you usually still need to work on campus to receive work-study funds.

You can start the financial aid process by completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your financial need. Most states and colleges also gather relevant information from this form.

Beyond government funds, you might apply for scholarships from schools, nonprofit organizations, or individuals. Other forms of aid include fellowships for graduate students who work in their department, employer tuition reimbursement benefits, and the GI Bill for service members, veterans, and their families. Once you've exhausted all financial aid options, you can apply for loans through a private lender, but take care: Private loans tend to feature less favorable interest rates and conditions than federal loans.

You won't be able to fill out a FAFSA if you have undocumented immigration status, but many states provide similar forms so you can at least receive state aid.

FAQs About Accredited Nonprofit Online Colleges and Schools

Are Nonprofit Colleges Good?

Nonprofit colleges have a better reputation than for-profit schools among experts and the general public, partly thanks to federal penalties against the for-profit sector.  Therefore, attending a for-profit school could potentially affect your experience in the job market. However, it's certainly possible to have a great experience at a for-profit college or a negative experience at a nonprofit school.

Are U.S. Colleges Nonprofit?

U.S. colleges can run as either nonprofit or for-profit institutions. According to the NCES, there were 3,227 nonprofit schools and 704 for-profit schools in 2021.

What Is the Largest Nonprofit University in the U.S.?

Western Governors University (WGU) is the largest nonprofit college in the nation, with 147,866 students enrolled in 2020. WGU is a private, entirely online institution.

What Is the Most Affordable Accredited Online College?

WGU features one of the lowest tuitions of any college offering online bachelor's degrees. This is notable because WGU is private and nonprofit, which tends to be the most expensive type of college.

Why Trust Us?

27 Data

60,000 Degrees Researched Annually

20,000 Hours Spent on Research Annually

Launching Rankings Since 2009

Meet our team

Related Articles

The 100 Most Popular Accredited Online Schools & Colleges

These popular accredited online schools have established strong brands that resonate with a large number of the prospective students who visit our site.

By OnlineU Staff Writers | 5/26/2023

Best Online Colleges

Our rankings are the first of their kind to use student salary and debt data from the government to highlight the best online colleges.

By OnlineU Staff Writers | 11/8/2022

List of Online Colleges by Accreditation

Accreditation is an important sign of a program's quality, so students should be sure to enroll in accredited programs. Check your school's accreditation here.

By OnlineU Staff Writers | 9/13/2022


Start Your Online College Search:

Review schools that align with your career aspirations.