Is Capella University Accredited? Is it Legit?

February 22, 2024

is Capella university accredited? Is it legit?

Is Capella University accredited? Further, is Capella University legit? Let’s start with the basics. Capella University is a private, for-profit, online university based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It offers 47 degree programs and more than 1,670 online courses. The school has 89 graduate and undergraduate specializations and 11 certificate programs. By the end of December 2022, Capella had conferred more than 140,000 degrees and certificates. 

What is today known as Capella University was started in 1993 as The Graduate School of America (TGSA) by Stephen Shank, the former CEO of Tonka (like the toy trucks), and Dr. Harold Abel, the former president of Central Michigan University. Eventually, TGSA was approved by the Minnesota Higher Education Services to grant MS and Ph.D. degrees in Organization and Management, Education, Human Services, and Interdisciplinary Studies.  

TGSA grew until 1999, when it was renamed Capella University and when it graduated its 100th student. 

Then, in 2018, Capella Education Company and Strayer Education, Inc. merged to create Strategic Education, Inc., which became the publicly traded parent corporation for both Capella and Strayer Universities. Capella and Strayer continued to operate as separate educational entities, however. 

About Accreditation 

Colleges, universities, and all kinds of vocational programs get themselves accredited by outside institutions in order to demonstrate their legitimacy. Accrediting institutions set out specific standards and guidelines for course content and learning objectives that a college or a program must meet to become accredited. If a school is accredited by a recognized accrediting body, it means that the school is following best practice protocols to create a relevant, useful, and valuable educational experience for its students. 

Drexel University, a globally recognized, private research university in Philadelphia, has put together a guide to accreditation. They write, “Educational institutions are either regionally or nationally accredited. Accreditation is a voluntary process that ensures a college, university, or degree program meets a universal standard for quality. This gives an institution and its graduates credibility with other institutions and employers.”

This distinction between national and regional accreditation is important to note. National accreditation focuses on vocational or technical programs. Regional accrediting bodies focus on academic institutions, including state-owned and private not-for-profit colleges and universities. 

If you’re going to attend a university, you want to make sure that it is accredited by a recognized regional accrediting association. Drexel lists those associations on its guide. This will not only ensure that you are attending a well-structured program that will prepare you for whatever step follows graduation, but it will also ensure that you have the ability to do things like transfer courses to another accredited school, should you choose to change directions. Employers and graduate schools will also recognize your accredited institution and be able to better verify your education as legitimate. 

Capella and Controversies 

A quick Google search will tell you that people have questioned Capella University’s legitimacy in the past. Private, for-profit colleges can seem like scams—and with good reason. 

These types of schools often target vulnerable populations, offering promises of career prospects that don’t exist. However, they do come with a pretty hefty price tag. People unwittingly think they’re making a positive investment in their future by buying into what they believe is a legitimate college, only to find out that their degree isn’t really recognized by the industry in which they want to work or finding that they’ve had to take out more loans than they initially expected because the university created problems that kept them from graduating.  In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission sent notice to the 70 largest for-profit universities, warning them that the FTC “will not stand for unfair or deceptive practices.

Is Capella University Accredited/Legit? (Continued)

This came on the heels of both Phoenix and DeVry Universities paying hundreds of millions of dollars to settle FTC charges that they were deceiving students about employment prospects. 

The State of California also obtained a $1.1 billion judgment against Corinthian College for “targeting low-income, vulnerable individuals through false advertisements that misrepresented job placement rates and the value of the school’s programs.” 

Capella is not without its controversies. 

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Education conducted an audit which found that Capella had overcharged students participating in the federal student loan program $588,000. The audit claimed that Capella made a series of mistakes in calculations. They also failed to return money to students who had dropped out of their classes before the first day of class. 

Is Capella University Accredited/Legit? (Continued)

In 2012, Capella came under fire for its expenditure on marketing, profit, and CEO pay rather than instruction. According to a report for the Senate Education Committee, 79 percent of Capella’s cash flow comes from Title IV payments from the federal government, including Pell Grants. While Capella was cited as being better at the distribution of funds in comparison to other for-profit schools, the disparity in money put toward instruction was a cause for concern. We go into more detail about the report in the next section. 

In 2018, a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota alleged that students were actively recruited to Capella’s doctoral programs, took on large amounts of loans, and then faced extensive roadblocks that kept them from finishing on time—and putting them in the position to borrow and spend more money. Capella dismissed the claims, but students continued to speak out. 

Is Capella University Accredited/Legit? (Continued)

In 2022, Capella was also part of a list of 153 mostly for-profit schools who were alleged to have fraudulent practices to the point that 200,000 student loan borrowers would have their loans canceled, based on the approval of a settlement by a federal judge in San Francisco. In December 2023,the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument regarding the attempt by three institutions to stop the Sweet settlement from going forward. While the Ninth Circuit considers the case, the Department of Education will continue to discharge loans and issue refunds under the terms of the approved settlement.”  The latest in the case, Sweet v. Cardona, is that settlement relief payments should have gone out to one group in January 2024 and to another in July 2024. 

Is Capella University Legit? 

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, a regional accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The Higher Learning Commission, or HLC, accredits schools that are mainly in the American Midwest. The University of Chicago, one of the best universities in the country, is accredited by the HLC, for example. The fact that this is a regional accreditation is good. It’s the most prestigious kind of accreditation. It means that courses you take with Capella can be transferred to other regionally and nationally accredited institutions. 

Capella University also holds accreditations from a number of different professional accrediting organizations, which are worth looking into, depending on the type of education you’re interested in pursuing. For example, Capella’s nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, or CCNE. That’s the same commission that accredits Drexel University’s nursing programs. 

Is Capella University Legit/Accredited? (Continued)

To ask if Capella University “is legit” is also asking a second question: “if I pay this for-profit school for a degree, will I get my money’s worth, or not?”

This question poses another question back to you: what is it that would make the degree and the experience valuable?

“The quality of any college’s academics is difficult to quantify. However, the amount that a school spends on instruction per student compared to other spending and what students say about their experience are two useful measures. 

Capella spent $1,650 per student on instruction in 2009. This is compared to $4,538 per student on marketing and $2,912 on profit. The amount that publicly traded, for-profit companies spend on instruction ranges from $892 to $3,969 per student per year. In contrast, public and non-profit 4-year colleges and universities generally spend a higher amount per student on instruction. By comparison, on a per-student basis, the University of Minnesota spent $13,247 per student on instruction, and University of Saint Thomas spent $11,361 per student,” according to that same United States Senate report concerning Capella. 

The report also states that there are enough complaints about the quality of education that the accrediting body, HLC, expressed concerns to the president of Capella. 

Is Capella University Legit/Accredited? (Continued)

If you’re perhaps uncertain about what you’d like to do after you graduate, if you’re young and you’re looking for a lot of structure—whether that’s in an online or an on-campus environment—you might want to think twice about diving into the world of for-profit education. You should remember: Capella is the face of a publicly traded corporation. The main goal of any publicly traded corporation is to consistently increase profits. This serves to consistently increase returns to the shareholders who own stock in that corporation. 

So, yes, while at the end of the day, Capella can give you an education, its larger goal is to pay dividends back to its shareholders. 

This is where the wisdom of public education options, such as public, in-state universities and community colleges becomes clear. Give yourself the time and space to get a quality, accredited, low-or-no-cost education without putting yourself in debt. If there’s a time when you need to shell out the big bucks to develop yourself professionally, you’ll know. But if you’re at all questioning how much money, time, energy, desire, interest, or willingness you have to spend on a degree, start first by looking for a school that maximizes educational quality and minimizes cost while giving you space to explore. Again, community colleges are often an excellent option in that regard. So are public, in-state schools. 

Is Capella University Legit? (Continued)

According to the United States Senate report about the Capella audit, 96 percent of students enrolled in four-year, for-profit programs and 98 percent of students enrolled in two-year, for-profit programs take out loans. Many of those students are not graduating, and leaving for-profit schools with debt but no degree. 

The report states: “While aggressive recruiting and high cost programs might be less problematic if students were receiving promised educational outcomes, committee staff analysis showed that tremendous numbers of students are leaving for-profit colleges without a degree. “

Start with what your interests and financial needs are. Then look to minimize your costs while maximizing your learning opportunities. Nearly every student who attends a for-profit program will need to take out loans. For-profit schools might not be the best option to minimize costs, depending on your situation. 

Where is Capella University? 

Capella University is online, but it’s headquartered in Minneapolis Minnesota. You can find out more information on their contact page

Capella University Cost 

Doctoral Degrees 

Tuition (capped tuition maximum; per credit until max) $4,385 – $5,000
Tuition (per credit) $555 – $825
FlexPath Option (each 12-week billing session) $3,265 – $3,340
Week-in-Residence $600 – $1,495
Year-in-Residence Extended Seminar $2,990 – $3,290

Master’s Degrees 

Tuition (per credit) $450 – $830
FlexPath Option (each 12-week billing session) $2,535 – $2,950

Bachelor’s Degrees 

Tuition (capped tuition maximum; per credit until max) $2,500
Tuition (per credit) $350 – $415
FlexPath Option (each 12-week billing session $2,500 – $3,370

Certificate Programs 

Tuition (per credit) $365 – $830

There is more on ways to reduce costs at Capella here

Capella University Notable Alumni

  • Rafael C. Castillo, PhD, First Editor of ViAztlan: A Journal of Chicano Arts and Letters
  • Tammy Duckworth, PhD, United States Senator from Illinois
  • Christopher Erhardt, PhD, American video game designer and retired professor
  • Debretsion Gebremichael, PhD 2011, president of Tigray Region from 2018 to 2023
  • Josh Haeder, BS, 33rd State Treasurer of South Dakota
  • Irene Muloni, MBA, Minister for Energy and Minerals in the Ugandan Cabinet
  • Linda L. Singh, PhD, adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard
  • Brandt Smith, PhD, member of the Arkansas House of Representatives from Jonesboro, Arkansas
  • Jennifer Welter, PhD, American football player, and the first woman to coach in a men’s professional football league
  • Xavier Woods, PhD, professional WWE wrestler

Is Capella University a Good School?

At the end of the day, this is a question best left to the Philosophy Department. 

Take it with a grain of salt, but there are plenty of anonymous people on Reddit who say that Capella University helped them reach a specific, targeted goal while they were working or taking care of a family. Lots of folks on those kinds of forums also say that Capella serves that purpose: if you have a specific benchmark degree or certificate you need to advance in a job where you already work and can get tuition remission from your employer to reach said goal, then an online option like Capella could be right for you. Then again, students in those class action lawsuits allege that they faced significant obstacles before graduation. This might make some people think twice, even if their job is footing the bill. 

If you really want a solid undergraduate or graduate online option, there are plenty of options that come from both private and public not-for-profit colleges and universities. Check out our list of the Best Accelerated Online Bachelor’s Degrees, the 20 Best Online MSW Programs, and the 12 Most Affordable Online Colleges to start learning more. You may also enjoy: