Articles

Editor’s Picks

Kaplan-Purdue Merger Has a Name but Remains Controversial

By Cait Etherington
January 11, 2018

Early last year, Purdue University, one of the nation’s prestigious land grant institutions, announced that it had purchased Kaplan University from Kaplan Inc. This week the university announced that the new entity will be called Purdue University Global. But will this new institution be able to overcome the controversies that have plagued its existence from the start?

Reactions to the Initial Announcement

Purdue President Mitch Daniels Mitch Daniels announcing the university’s purchase of Kaplan in April 2017 (Purdue University photo/John Underwood).

When announced last April, Purdue University’s acquisition of Kaplan came as a surprise to many and angered some stakeholders. The unprecedented acquisition was orchestrated by Purdue University’s current president, Mitch Daniels, a former Republican governor. For at least some Purdue faculty, the move appeared to be nothing more than an attempt to undermine the university’s commitment to public education, but Daniels disagreed. As Daniels explained at the time, “Nearly 150 years ago, Purdue proudly accepted the land-grant mission to expand higher education beyond the wealthy and the elites of society. We cannot honor our land-grant mission in the 21st century without reaching out to the 36 million working adults, 750,000 of them in our state, who started but did not complete a college degree, and to the 56 million Americans with no college credit at all.”

At the time of the announcement, Daniels was clear that the acquisition was directly tied to Purdue’s desire to expand its online course and program offerings: “None of us knows how fast or in what direction online higher education will evolve, but we know its role will grow, and we intend that Purdue be positioned to be a leader as that happens. A careful analysis made it clear that we are very ill-equipped to build the necessary capabilities ourselves, and that the smart course would be to acquire them if we could. We were able to find exactly what we were looking for. Today’s agreement moves us from a standing start to a leading position.”

As part of the deal, Purdue acquired Kaplan’s institutional operations and assets, including 15 campuses, over 30,000 students, and more than 3,000 employees. Following the announcement, however, the new project received especially harsh criticism from Purdue faculty members. In early May, the ICAAUP (Indiana Conference of the American Association of University Professors) issued a statement objecting to the acquisition on five key grounds. Specifically, the ICAAUP complained that “No faculty input was sought before this decision was made,” and “No assessment of the impact on the academic quality of Purdue was made.” The statement also emphasized that “Non-profit institutions serve the public good; for-profit private institutions serve corporate interests. The two should not mix.”

What We Know about Purdue University Global

In a press release issued this morning, Purdue indicated, “The name [Purdue University Global] will become effective when the acquisition of Kaplan University by Purdue clears the last step in the approval process – review by the Higher Learning Commission, the regional accreditor for both Purdue University and Kaplan University, which is scheduled for Feb. 22.” The university’s press release noted that the Indiana Commission for Higher Education had already voted unanimously to approve the acquisition in August and that the U.S. Department of Education gave its approval in September but with a stipulation that the new institution’s name include the name Purdue.

President Mitch Daniels, who continues to spearhead the project, was predictably enthusiastic, explaining, “Our campuses are typically named after the physical locations where they hold classes. Purdue University Global can be accessed from anywhere in the world, at any time. The name proved appealing and meaningful to our various stakeholders – most importantly prospective students.”

As part of the acquisition, Daniels will also be acquiring a new colleague. As reported this morning in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Betty Vandenbosch, president of Kaplan University, will become chancellor of the new entity known as Purdue University Global.