One of the nation’s great public science, technology, and engineering universities, Purdue University, recently announced it was acquiring Kaplan Higher Education, a 15-campus for-profit postsecondary-education chain. While the move has drawn a fair amount of early criticism, this may be a historically important initiative, one that should be applauded by both higher-education institutions and those they serve.
First, the Purdue-Kaplan deal promises to raise the quality of American postsecondary education in a dramatic and very visible fashion. Kaplan was one of the for-profit chains cited in the U.S Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions’ scathing 2012 report on the for-profit higher-education industry, particularly publicly traded chains. These institutions were criticized for low admission standards and graduation rates; high tuitions and student-loan default rates; predatory recruitment practices; and gaming the federal financial-aid regulations, among other abuses. The U.S. Senate report called for greater oversight of the industry. To date, large segments of the industry and some accreditors have resisted the recommendations of that report.
The Kaplan acquisition — in which Purdue controls academics and Kaplan retains backroom management — has the promise of setting higher standards for for-profits than government or accreditors have succeeded at doing. Purdue, which plans to turn the for-profit institution into a public university, can now offer a visible “no excuses” demonstration of how academic standards can be raised at institutions like Kaplan.