Purdue University held its first classes on its Indiana campus in 1874 and was ranked as the sixtieth best undergraduate university and twentieth best public university in US News and World Report’s most recent list. The University particularly excels in science and engineering, supplying a substantial number of NASA’s past astronauts, including Neil Armstrong.
Kaplan University began offering online courses in 2003 as part of The Washington Post Company’s growing education division. Kaplan was started as a test prep company in 1938 by Stanley Kaplan. When The Washington Post was making more money than it knew what to do with, it purchased Kaplan in 1984 and grew it to an education empire that included brick and mortar campuses, an online university, international schools, and test preparation materials. By 2010, Kaplan was doing $2.9 billion in revenue, but then the landscape dramatically changed for for-profit education companies as they became accused of aggressive sales techniques and poor educational quality. Donald Graham, the Post Company’s CEO, defended for-profit institutions in his 2010 letter to shareholders, by arguing that its student population was more likely to face challenges because Kaplan was providing access to at-risk student populations, but that adjusting for these risk factors, for-profit schools were often better than their non-profit counterparts. Whether or not he was right, it became clear as time passed that he had lost the war.
After the Graham sold the namesake newspaper to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the name of the company owning Kaplan changed to The Graham Holdings Company.
The deal allows Purdue to create a separate, online university with little investment in technology and infrastructure. The University will pay Graham Holdings $1 initially, but up to 12.5% of the university’s revenues. The deal also involves 32,000 students compared to the 40,000 currently enrolled at Purdue. After the deal closes, only The University of Maryland would have more online students among public universities in The United States.
While the deal makes plenty of business sense for both Purdue and Graham Holdings, it remains to be seen whether American universities will succeed in using technology to reduce the cost of education and increase access among underprivileged groups.
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