For-profit tactics might be coming to public universities, and no one is talking about it

Unless you’re a resident of Indiana, you probably haven’t heard about Purdue University’s recently announced acquisition of troubled online for-profit college Kaplan University. This acquisition is highly unusual and has many unknown implications for Indiana students and educators and beyond — and media’s limited and uncritical coverage of the unprecedented merger is exactly what the leadership behind the deal wants.

On April 27, Purdue University announced the deal to acquire Kaplan University, in a first-of-its-kind move to bring a for-profit college under the umbrella of a public university. Many details of the deal remain unclear, including whether the unnamed new university will operate more like a for-profit or a public college. Purdue issued a press release stating that “the creation of a new public university … will further expand access to higher education.” Purdue President and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said in the same press release that he wants “Purdue be positioned to be a leader “ in online education.

Daniels’ rhetoric mirrors common right-wing media defenses of “innovative” (actually troubled) for-profit institutions that take advantage of students and often underserve communities that need accessible higher education most. Kaplan’s track record is no different.

Kaplan’s troubling history

Kaplan University is among many high-profile institutions in the for-profit online college industry that have been investigated for troubling practices that hurt students. In an April 30 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, for-profit college accountability expert Robert Shireman wrote that “a U.S. Senate committee investigation revealed that Kaplan in 2009 allocated more money to marketing … than to actually teaching students”:

Kaplan’s sales operation trained recruiters to steer prospects away from comparing Kaplan’s programs to other options by using a “fear,…

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