When it comes to choosing a college or university to get an online masters degree, reputation is everything. The value of your degree is directly related to the reputation of the university at which you study. When you go to look for a job people will assess your value based on their perceived value of where you got your degree. If the university has a strong positive reputation in their mind, your degree will be beneficial to you. If the university or college where you attended has a very strong negative connotations in their mind, your degree might actually hurt your chances of getting a job.
In actual practice the perceived reputation of your school will probably be somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. A degree from a well-known ivy league school will probably push you toward the positive end of the spectrum. A degree from a for-profit college or university that has just been in the news being accused of operating like a diploma mill, will probably push their perception of you toward the negative end of this spectrum.
The real trick is that you can’t rely on the university’s current perceived value when it comes to preparing for your future. You have to gauge what the perception of the school will be in the future as well. Just because they have a good reputation today does not mean they will have a good reputation in five years. The longer you are out of college the less your degree probably matters. Still you don’t want to have a black stain on your resume for the rest of your life.
This is probably the biggest difference between for-profit and nonprofit universities. For-profit universities are likely to be more volatile in the way they approach things. Since they have the profit motive they may be willing to let the academic quality of their institutions suffer in exchange for greater profit. Obviously this is a good long-term strategy, but they wouldn’t be the first business to attempt something like that.
On the other hand nonprofit universities, unlike Capella University and University of Phoenix, are often motivated by academic excellence–or at least by portraying the appearance of academic excellence. For a student this is probably a better option. Schools that are attempting to look academically sound are probably less likely to do something damaging to the reputation than schools that are attempting to make a lot of money.
I’m not suggesting that Capella University and University of Phoenix don’t care about their academic standing. I’m sure that they do. It is very important to them. However, they have pressures that don’t existing in other settings and their focus on academic achievement is done for different reasons than it is at other non-profit traditional educational institutions.
The above argument is one of the main reasons you need to be very careful about the reputation of Capella University and the reputation of University of Phoenix. All the schools are well known, they are still for-profit institutions. The educational quality may be very good. The educational quality may vary greatly depending on who is teaching the class. Regardless people’s perception of your degree has very little to do with what you actually learned. It has everything to do with how they perceive the school. You want to make sure you’re attending an institution that will be perceived as highly reliable book now and in the future.
This is why for most people they should pursue a degree at a well-known, well-established institution–ideally one that has a strong physical presence and has for hundreds of years. The chances of Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, or Penn State being labeled a diploma mill are infinitely smaller than University of Phoenix or Capella University. The perception of the University of Phoenix is based on a very short period of time. The reputation of Capella University only goes back about 20 or 30 years. The history of Harvard University goes back a long time. The school was founded in 1636. That means we are coming up on 400 years of academic history with that institution.
The same thing goes for non-Ivy league schools as well. Their number of very good state schools that are offering online degree programs. Don’t overlook these. They often offer outstanding value–particularly if you’re able to in-state tuition. They have a strong physical presence, and in some cases you can take classes both online and in person–and great option for someone to want the camaraderie of a real-life classroom but can’t afford the commute time on every single class.
In the end each person has a different need when it comes to choosing a school. However, you should be very careful to make sure that the university or college you choose will allow you to meet your career goals and will not hold you back because of unexpected changes in the future. If Capella University or University of Phoenix help you reach your goals then by all means pursue an education there.