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Online Degrees

Part of Western Governors University

August 5, 2019

Online University Experience

Comparing WGU to for-profit colleges.

WGU has always been a nonprofit university.

When people learn that Western Governors University is an online university, many of them assume that we are a for-profit school. Established in 1997 by a bipartisan group of governors belonging to the Western Governors Association, WGU has always been a nonprofit university.

Many for-profit schools have been making headlines in recent years for the wrong reasons. Several have closed and left their students with debt and questionable transfer credits, while others have been accused of predatory behavior by encouraging students to max out their student loans. For-profit schools are also notorious for going after military veterans and their G.I. Bill dollars. 

Studying online

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, for-profit enrollment peaked in 2010 at about 2.4 million and has been declining ever since. From 2010 to 2016, enrollment at the for-profit University of Phoenix plummeted from 470,000 students to about 130,000. 

According to a recent report from the Brookings Institute, students who enroll in for-profit online programs are attracted by easy enrollment and assistance in procuring student financial aid, but are subsequently disappointed with the poor quality of their education.

So how does WGU compare to for-profit colleges? Can WGU students expect better outcomes? To answer these questions, we explored statistics compiled by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment and other sources. 

Tuition and Fees

(Average annual tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates)

For-profit colleges: $15,654

WGU: $6,450 for most degree programs 

Average Student Loan Debt Upon Graduation

For-profit colleges: $39,950

WGU: $15,000


Employment After Graduation

For-profit colleges: 78% of graduates report being employed

WGU: 87% employed in their degree fields

Student Loan Default Rate

 (three-year default rate)

For-profit colleges: 16% for FY2014 cohorts

WGU: 4.1% for FY2015 cohorts

Six-Year College Completion Rates

For-profit four-year colleges: 23% in 2017

WGU: 50% in 2018 (compared to 38% for comparable institutions serving adult learners)

Looking specifically in North Carolina, the Center for Responsible Lending discerned that residents enrolled at for-profit colleges will experience less-favorable outcomes and accumulate higher debt than those at public or private four-year colleges. The six-year completion rate for North Carolina students at for-profit colleges was just 16.1%. North Carolinians enrolled in for-profit colleges owed an average of $30,397 upon graduation. The three-year cohort student loan default rate for North Carolina graduates of for-profit colleges is 13.6%. 

One telling statistic from a 2018 survey conducted by NSSE shows WGU graduates’ overall satisfaction with their experiences. When asked if they would go to the same institution if they could start again, 94% of WGU graduates surveyed said they probably or definitely would. While we were unable to find a comparable statistic for graduates of for-profit colleges, every indication is that their satisfaction level would be much less.

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One online university. Four colleges. Flexible degrees.

Our focus on your success starts with our focus on four high-demand fields: K–12 teaching and education, nursing and healthcare, information technology, and business. Every degree program at WGU is tied to a high-growth, highly rewarding career path. Which college fits you?

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