A bold, risky education move


(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

There is good reason to worry about Purdue University’s takeover of for-profit Kaplan University, its online programs and its 15 campuses and learning centers with 32,000 students. It will be complicated, and a lot could go wrong.

For-profit universities have not had the best reputation lately, and Purdue will be taking on Kaplan’s baggage just as much as Kaplan will be taking on Purdue’s reputation. The worst that could happen is that the worth of a Purdue degree will be diminished in the public’s eye.

That said, however, this is a bold move at a time when higher education can use some bold moves. It has the potential to meet the long-term goals of both Purdue and Hoosier higher education in general. The Indiana Commission on Higher Education has made long-term goals of reaching out more to adult learners and increasing the state’s commitment to online learning. The Kaplan takeover will put Purdue seriously in the mix for both goals.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels cites for Inside Higher Education the 36 million working adults in America over the age of 25 with some college credits but no degree, 750,000 of whom are in Indiana. Another 56 million Americans over 25 have no college under their belt.

“Our modern, complex economy is stacked against these men and women,” he said in a written statement. “If they are to advance professionally, they must largely balance the demands of school with the obligations of careers, family and other burdens of adult life. Increasingly, these Americans are finding hope in high-quality, online programs tailored to their unique needs.”

Another driver for the deal, Daniels said in an interview, is that Purdue could not have made a large move online without acquiring an established provider. Purdue would have to spend millions of dollars chasing more nimble players if it wanted to build a formidable slate of online offerings, because it is “too slow, too process-oriented and too far behind,” he said.

“We have decided … we did not have the wherewithal to do so, at least on our own,” he told Purdue’s board.

There is no guarantee Purdue’s move will succeed, says Andy Smarick of the American Enterprise Institute. “But this story, because of its scope, sophistication and potential, is worth tracking closely.”

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