The Journal Gazette
Friday, May 05, 2017 1:00 am

Kaplan deal likely to downgrade Purdue brand

Rachel E. Hile

Many Hoosiers are likely concerned but also confused about the implications for Indiana higher education of what has inaccurately been characterized as the “sale” of Kaplan University to Purdue University.

Last week, Purdue President Mitch Daniels announced a deal for a 30-year contract that would turn the “academic assets” of the unprofitable part of Kaplan University (its parent company, Graham Holdings Co., is keeping the profitable test-preparation and professional education arms of the business) into a new school (called “New University” for now).

Purdue will pay Kaplan $1 for the academic assets – Kaplan will make its money in the deal by having 12.5 percent of the profits of New University funneled to it every year the contract remains in effect.

Daniels has presented the deal as a way of “honor(ing) our land-grant mission” by expanding working adults' access to higher education through online courses and degree programs.

But the Purdue-Kaplan deal is a bad plan for reaching Indiana's higher-ed goals.

Indiana has set the “Big Goal” that, by 2025, 60 percent of the state's adult population will have a two- or four-year college degree.

In 2010, only 38.3 percent of working-age Hoosiers had attained these credentials, so reaching the goal will involve significant effort. The state has already made a number of changes aimed at increasing the number of college graduates:

Core Transfer Library: In 2005, the General Assembly created the “Indiana Core Transfer Library” to make it easier for students to receive full credit for previous college work when they transfer to a new institution.

This program links courses with the same content and learning outcomes at public institutions in Indiana so it's easy to see what are essentially the same courses; institutions are obligated to transfer in the courses that correspond to their own courses in the transfer library.

Dual credit for high school students: Indiana law requires high schools to offer at least two dual-credit courses, that is, courses for which high school students receive both high school and college credit. These courses can be offered through face-to-face instruction or online.

Statewide general education transfer: In 2012, the legislature created a statewide general education core so that a student who completes the statewide general education core at one Indiana state educational institution can transfer to another institution and not have to take general education courses at the new school.

It is possible that the Purdue-Kaplan deal could lead to an increase in the number of Hoosiers with degrees, but even if that happens, it is likely that this increase will occur at the cost of an overall decline in the actual educational attainments (that is, what people actually know and can do) in the state. Here's why:

• Since this will be a “public” Indiana institution, its courses will be included in the Indiana Core Transfer Library.

• Students who complete the general education core online through the New University can transfer those credits to any Indiana university to complete their education.

High schools in rural areas that are required by law to offer at least two dual-credit courses will find a fully online program that offers credits with the name of “Purdue” to be much more convenient than the current system, which involves teacher certification and oversight from university faculty, who often have to drive significant distances to provide this supervision.

Home-schoolers and charter schools will also likely flock to New University's online offerings for dual-credit courses.

Indiana universities can thus expect the arrival on their campuses of a large number of students who have already completed their general education core through New University and think they are ready for upper-level college work. But they won't be ready, because Kaplan's courses are currently taught (and will continue to be taught at New University) by an army of underpaid, untenured, sometimes inadequately credentialed instructors with high workloads and no job security.

This is not an education model that will teach students how to think, question and explore ideas, which is what they should be getting from their general education experience.

With these students, professors in upper-level classes will have to either: 1) dumb down the material to what they previously would have taught in a lower-level class, or 2) flunk a lot of students, which leads to students leaving college with significant debt and no degree and can lead to loss of funding for the university because of the performance-based funding metrics instituted in Indiana in 2012.

If the Purdue-Kaplan deal goes through, Daniels may be able to brag about an increased percentage of citizens with college credentials.

But by providing those degrees using a “business model” that focuses on paying teachers the minimum possible, he ensures that those credentials will mean less than a Purdue degree does now.

Rachel E. Hile is associate professor in the Department of English and Linguistics at IPFW.

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