On its face, Purdue University's acquisition of Kaplan University can be good for students.
Purdue, part of the Big Ten and a major research university, has long-standing traditions of academic excellence. One would expect they would impose those high standards on Kaplan, a school with a long track record of poor academic quality and other problems that my organization, Veterans Education Success, has been monitoring for a while now.
Veterans Education Success has received complaints from nearly 100 veterans and service members who say Kaplan misled veterans and service members about the university's accreditation, the transferability of Kaplan credits, the quality of Kaplan's programs and the career prospects of Kaplan's graduates.
They also report that Kaplan deceived veterans and service members about the cost of Kaplan's programs and has borrowed money on behalf of veterans and service members without their consent. With Harvard Law School, we published a report, “Veteran and Servicemember Complaints about Misconduct and Illegal Practices at Kaplan Schools.”
Unfortunately, Kaplan, now known as Purdue University Global, looks set to inject the worst of Kaplan's bad practices into the Purdue system.
Initially, Purdue Global intended to force professors to sign nondisclosure agreements, preventing them from becoming whistleblowers if they suspect their employer is taking advantage of unsuspecting students or engaging in other unscrupulous acts. The American Association of University Professors had never seen such an arrangement at a major university. After media scrutiny, Purdue Global was forced to back off of this plan. But Purdue Global still intends to force non-professor staff to sign nondisclosure agreements. The agreements would continue to cover the specialized military marketing, admissions and outreach staff. This is concerning behavior.
Worse, Purdue Global intends to force students to sign mandatory forced arbitration agreements when they enroll. These agreements are written so that they extend back in time to before Kaplan was purchased by Purdue, meaning that the victims of lies, fraud and other misrepresentations by Kaplan's employees prior to the merger would not have the right to be brought in front of a judge. They would instead be buried in unaccountable arbitration proceedings, where they are dealt with individually and are inaccessible to the public, preventing meaningful accountability.
Clearly, Purdue and Kaplan's lawyers have learned their lessons from the class-action lawsuits attempting to wring a meager amount of justice from the ITT Tech bankruptcy proceedings.
Further investigation has revealed that Purdue Global is attempting to create a marketing push targeting service members and veterans using the GI Bill or the active duty's tuition assistance program. According to a Purdue professor involved in bringing Purdue Global into Purdue's ecosystem, Purdue only spends about $5 million on marketing while Purdue Global intends to spend $100 million. Purdue Global needs to spend that amount of money luring in new, unsuspecting students.
Backing off of the requirement that professors sign nondisclosure agreements was a good first step, but by still subjecting staff members to nondisclosure agreements, using mandatory forced arbitration on their students and targeting military-connected students, Purdue Global is showing worrisome signs it is still using the same bad practices that have destroyed the future of so many students. Purdue needs to do more to show that it has students' interests first, and not its own.
Mike Saunders is legal advocacy director of Veterans Education Success.