Chronicle of Higher Education, Purdue Global Has Had a Rocky Start. Is It Growing Pains or a Sign of Trouble?:
In April 2017, Mitch Daniels stunned academe with the announcement that Purdue University, where he is president, planned to acquire for-profit Kaplan University. With one stroke, the former Republican governor of Indiana drew market forces close to the heart of a public research university and, overnight, positioned Purdue to compete with established online “mega-universities” like Southern New Hampshire University.
Two and a half years later, the audacious deal is showing signs of trouble. Daniels, who had predicted that the deal would produce a “very substantial revenue stream,” has said that Purdue University Global, as the former Kaplan online programs are now known, is not “achieving the growth we thought we might.” The university’s annual financial report, released this month, shows that Purdue Global suffered a $43-million loss last year, following a $18-million loss during the year prior.
While Purdue Global is less than three years old, its course so far hints at the potential pitfalls of trying to rise to the mega-university level. But does its halting progress to date indicate a wrong turn on Daniels’s part, or just a bumpy start?
Purdue Global’s lackluster beginning has provided ammunition for critics within and outside the university who fret over the possible damage to Purdue’s reputation caused by bringing a for-profit entity into a public institution — a notion that many faculty members objected to from the outset. “We were told this was a can't-fail operation, that it was going to be profitable and successful, that it was going to pay for itself,” says Bill Mullen, a professor of English. “There's been very little to crow about here about Purdue Global's performance so far.”
Critics like Mullen also worry that Purdue Global might be just business-as-usual Kaplan University under another name. While it is owned by Purdue and overseen by a Board of Trustees appointed by Daniels, including four members of the university board, many of Purdue Global’s functions are still provided by for-profit Kaplan Higher Education Inc., its former owner. And many Purdue faculty members say they still have no idea who’s teaching Purdue Global’s courses or what’s being taught; about 45 percent of the 1,700 Purdue Global faculty have a doctorate, according to Purdue.
“The level of transparency at Purdue Global is not on the level that we typically expect from a public university,” says Yan Cao, a fellow at the Century Foundation, a nonprofit policy group.