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The Journal Gazette

  • Carwein

Monday, June 19, 2017 1:00 am

Non-traditional approach

Purdue deal response to students' evolving needs

Vicky L. Carwein

Vicky L. Carwein is chancellor of IPFW.

Change in higher education often comes slowly. Take online learning, for example. By some measures, it would seem that online classes are tremendously popular. In the United States alone, for example, nearly 6 million students take at least one distance education course, with the vast majority of these being online classes. When you put this number into perspective, however, it quickly becomes apparent that there's room for substantially more growth: 23 years after the first online course was offered, those millions of students translate to only 28 percent of all those enrolled in college.

For most of my career, the vast majority of college classes have been delivered almost exclusively in traditional classroom on-campus settings – and I still believe in the power and importance of this model. However, I also know that online learning provides an excellent complement when students face barriers to accessing higher education. Too many times I hear of deserving college students who drop out because they lack transportation or child care, or because their work schedules conflict with their classes. Higher education must evolve and be more responsive to students' needs if more of our citizens are to earn college degrees, which in itself is imperative to ensuring we remain globally competitive.

Purdue University's recently announced acquisition of Kaplan University is a major step in responding to growing demands for more flexible class scheduling, increased use of technology in the delivery of courses and programs, and lower costs of college attendance. Some critics of this idea have said it's unconventional – but I suggest that it is, along with innovations in the delivery of programs, exactly what is needed. Higher education is facing tremendous challenges, in large part because precedents, including some of questionable value, are so deeply entrenched. Maintaining status quo and the traditional approach to the delivery of higher education even now do not meet the needs of today's college students, let alone prepare for our students of tomorrow. The Purdue/Kaplan partnership represents a move into the future that will provide educational opportunity to thousands, perhaps millions, of individuals who otherwise would never have such a door opened to them.

The past 20 years have seen dramatic changes in the nature and delivery of distance education. Advancements in connectivity, content delivery, course management, storage of and access to data and online interactions between and among students and faculty, to name just a few, have significantly expanded and enhanced the student learning experience. Combined with the low cost of owning personal devices, online education is now available to literally millions of people around the world. The expertise that Kaplan brings in production of and services in support of online learning will provide the infrastructure for Purdue to reach thousands of students currently not served by residential and commuter institutions.

Purdue has succeeded in recent years in providing a world-class education without raising tuition at a time when public funding of higher education is in decline and most other institutions continue to raise tuition. In fact, Purdue has had no tuition increases since 2012 and has committed to no increases during the next two years. Coupled with reductions in cost of meal plans, textbooks and other fees, it will cost less to attend Purdue in 2019 than in 2012. The acquisition of Kaplan further advances Purdue's commitment to providing affordable, accessible higher education in a manner that expands opportunities for degree attainment and will support countless individuals in reaching their goals.

The acquisition of Kaplan provides the opportunity for degree attainment to a particular population of students that is currently underserved or not served at all throughout our country – older, working adults, many with some college credits – most of whom will never obtain a college degree via our current and historic traditional methods of delivering higher education. While many institutions, including IPFW, do a good job of delivering online courses and full degree programs, there remains a huge unmet need for more online offerings and other advances. The Purdue-Kaplan deal clearly signals a new and innovative approach to educating our citizenry.

Perhaps the greatest value of the deal, however, is that it serves as a catalyst for changes long needed in higher education. We should all be proud that Purdue is leading the way. The acquisition of Kaplan will position Purdue well for the future, and will have a lasting effect on the one factor that should be most important to everyone in higher education: student success and access to affordable education.

Let's applaud Purdue for being among the first to recognize the considerable benefits that arise when education delivered in innovative ways is made more accessible and affordable, particularly to those not currently served by our traditional approaches.