7 Worst Online Colleges

You have come across various ads from several online colleges. However, some of them are the worst online colleges to avoid since they will try to take your money, leave you broke, and give you a degree that is not respected. Some of such colleges are generally controversial, have made the FTC’s warning list for deceptive advertising, and even the US government hates them.

Also, they have really low graduation rates and tend to graduate a fifth of their students, then charge expensively for tuition. It’s truly insane and gets to a point where many students call them out as a ‘scam’ or ‘degree mill’, not because of their for-profit status, but their general reputation.

Worst Online Colleges

Worst Online Colleges

So, I’d be looking at 7 colleges you really need to think again before applying. Yes, they may have a high acceptance rate but will you graduate? Also, will employers even respect your degree at the mention of the name? Let’s look at 7 of the worst online colleges out there:

1. DeVry University

DeVry University? Many students consider this online school a scam and so much a degree mill that you would be better off buying scratch-off lottery tickets and seeing a return on investment from those than by going to the school. The graduation rate of this school is about 20%. They have 120 credit hours in our degree, but they charge $514 per credit for an undergraduate degree and $776 for a graduate degree. This is wildly expensive for the quality of education you’re getting here.

However, what sets DeVry apart from other schools is their investigations, lawsuits, and settlements history. DeVry has even had to split the lawsuits and such by decade on their Wikipedia page. In 1996, their students filed a class action claiming poor education quality and job preparation.

This school was built on shaky ground, which is why I consider it one of the worst online colleges you can apply for right now. We’re talking about a class action for widespread trickery, illegal business ways, and fake ads. There are more class actions coming up for the rest of the decade. Someone even said the college paid students for good reviews. Plus, they tried to dodge rules for for-profit colleges. The Federal Trade Commission stepped in. Their accrediting group, The Higher Learning Commission, called them out for being under investigation for fraud. In about 16 months, DeVry got over 3,600 complaints, which is more than 15% of the 24,000 complaints against for-profit colleges. And in 2022, DeVry University was one of 153 schools where students got their loans canceled because of suspected fraud. It seems like the easy way to get a free degree was to go to DeVry, complain after a few years, and then the government would just cancel your loans, no problem.

2. University of Phoenix

It gets even worse. At number two is a well-known school, the University of Phoenix. You’ve probably seen their ads. I have too, and had to review whether they are legit or just another diploma mill out there. You might think they are not great, but they’re not the worst online college on this list. They do manage to graduate 27% of their students, which is slightly better than 26%. They charge $398 per credit hour for their 70,000 undergraduates, which isn’t too high compared to other online schools. However, the University of Phoenix is weighed down by a long history of scandals.

If you check their Wikipedia page, it’s full of scandals. In 2004, a founder criticized the school for straying from its mission and just taking money from anyone. I guess that’s why they are a disliked for-profit online school. They began to rely more on government funds.

In 2007, the New York Times reported a drop in their graduation rate. In 2000, they were fined $6 million for unethical curriculum practices. In 2003 and 2004, they illegally pushed admissions counselors to enroll as many students as possible. Their graduation rate was only 17% in 2008, and students took much longer to graduate. More government scrutiny came in 2010. A senior vice president admitted that growth was prioritized over academic integrity. Another founder said the school had become a profit-driven entity, mainly admitting students eligible for federal loans. They were accused of violating the False Claims Act. The University of Phoenix spent a huge $76 million on advertising in 2017. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs stopped giving GI bill money to their students due to deceptive recruiting. There’s also a class action lawsuit from students claiming fraud. The University of Phoenix isn’t lower on the list because they do graduate more students than others. Also, they’re being sold to the University of Idaho, a public university, which might lead to improvements. But we’ll have to wait and see.

3. American Public University

American Public University has around 39,000 students paying for degrees. However, only 18% of their first-time, full-time students actually graduate, which is about a 1 in 5 chance. A positive aspect is their affordability, charging $325 per credit hour, which is quite reasonable compared to other online colleges that often charge exorbitant fees. However, they’ve still ended up on the federal government’s watch list. As of October 2021, they were noted in the FTC’s (Federal Trade Commission) list for unhealthy practices in higher education. They’re mentioned in an article titled “The FTC Takes New Aim at Deceptive For-Profit Colleges.” This is mainly due to misleading claims about job prospects, earnings, and educational outcomes. I even had to write an article questioning whether American Public University is legit or another degree mill out there.

Many for-profit colleges are guilty of false advertising. They use deceptive ads to lure students with promises of a dream life and high earnings, despite only a small percentage of students graduating. The mistake? Perhaps, they make students feel like they have to do too little or nothing at all, and then get their dream job and all. These colleges are often more interested in the federal funds students bring, like loans and Pell Grants, rather than the students’ welfare.

4. Strayer University

Currently, Strayer University has 28,000 students and stands out because it’s had fewer scandals compared to other schools on this list. Just look at Wikipedia – they only have one paragraph about lawsuits and investigations. That’s pretty rare for one of the worst online colleges. But the downside is their graduation rate is really low, around 16%. Also, they are expensive! Strayer University charges $508 per credit hour.

Now, imagine being 1 of just 6 students in a class, each paying $1,500, but you’re the only one who actually graduates. Those aren’t great odds. Also, Strayer, along with the University of Phoenix and others, was mentioned in an FTC investigation for possibly misleading advertising. You can refer to the list here.

Most for-profit schools are part of big corporations. For example, Strayer is owned by Strategic Education Inc., which also owns Capella University, one of the worst online colleges to avoid that makes this list. By the way, one of the take-home positives of Strayer University is that you might be given a free Strayer University laptop.

5. American InterContinental University

American InterContinental University, owned by Perdocio, graduates only 19% of its 10,000 students. They charge $345 per credit for a 180-credit degree, which seems a bit high compared to other online schools. It’s pretty clear they’ve set their prices deliberately. And they’ve had their share of scandals. Perdocio has been investigated by the US Department of Justice, Education, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. AIU’s Los Angeles campus was accused of misrepresenting its programs and admitting students without high school diplomas. They even counted students who never attended classes to boost their numbers. This happened years ago, but as recently as 2017, they were under close watch by the US Department of Education for financial management issues.

In March 2020, the Department of Veteran Affairs stopped GI Bill reimbursements to AIU due to misleading practices. It’s hard to ignore their history of issues from 2007, 2009, 2015, and 2020. Despite this, they continue with a for-profit model that seems to prioritize investors’ pockets over students.

It’s sad to think about the thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, who enroll in these worst online colleges. They might be drawn in by aggressive marketing and persuasive admissions staff. You probably don’t want to risk your savings and incur debt for a slim chance of graduating.

6. Capella University

At number six, we have Capella University with 13,000 students, but only about 21% are expected to graduate. Capella does something annoying in their online programs. They charge $350 to $415 per credit hour, which seems average, but they don’t make it clear that their degrees require 180 credit hours. They use a quarter credit system, so each credit is smaller and you need more. This means they’re actually charging at least $525 per credit hour, making them more expensive than others, even though they seem affordable at first.

Capella has a cool ‘Flex Path’ option where you pay a subscription every 12 weeks and take as many courses as you want, potentially graduating faster and saving money. However, other schools offer similar subscription-based models at lower costs and with higher graduation rates.

Also, Capella University has a section on its Wikipedia page about controversies, including marketing expenses, class action lawsuits, alleged fraud, and issues with the U.S. Department of Education.

7. Colorado Technical University

At number 7 is Colorado Technical University, part of Perdocio Education Corporation. They have 22,000 students and a 22% graduation rate. Like Capella, they promote affordable credits but require 180 of them. Their charge is slightly lower at $340 per credit hour, which is reasonable.

This school is widely considered a diploma mill. However, it’s feasible to work 40 hours a week, complete your studies, and even self-learn. There are a few good colleges out there, but they might not be worth the cost. Colorado Technical University is good if you’re good at self-learning or if you’re looking for an easy degree.


While some are the worst online colleges, there are good online colleges out there where you can get a respected degree that you’ll be proud of. An example is ASU Online—a good school. So, it’s left for you to do your own research, add to what you have learned here, and make the perfect decision according to your current situation.

Read alsoIs National University Legit?

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