Community colleges cancel deal with online Kaplan University
This headline begins a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. As described in the article:
The plan was intended in part to offer students at the state's 112 community colleges a way to take courses that might have been canceled or overcrowded because of state budget cuts.
It is not surprising that this plan gets scuttled in the current charged political debate over for-profit higher education. Nevertheless, the cancellation brings up a few important issues that should be noted.
According to the article, one of the main reasons given for the cancellation is:
because the University of California and Cal State University systems had not agreed to accept Kaplan courses for transfer credits. Without the transfer agreements, the plan could have harmed students and the community colleges, the officials said.
It would be interesting to know why the UC and Cal State systems would not agree to accept Kaplan courses for transfer credits. It cannot be because they found that learning outcomes for Kaplan courses were worse than learning outcomes for the community college courses - there are no data available to make such comparisons. Could it be that the Kaplan courses were excluded simply because Kaplan is a for-profit institution?
There were also concerns raised by some faculty leaders regarding the price of the Kaplan courses: $646 for a three-credit class, compared with $78 at a community college. According to the New York Times, the Kaplan price represents a 42% discount. This cost theme was reflected in a quote in the Chronicle of Higher Ed attributed to Deborah Frankle Cochrane, program director at the Institute for College Access and Success:
It certainly is odd that a system that is so proud of its affordability and low fees would encourage students to pay $216 a credit
It would, of course, be nice if Kaplan could have charged the same as a community college. The reality is, of course, that the taxpayer is subsidizing the community college class enormously, but not the Kaplan class. And the reason that the agreement was drafted is that the California taxpayer cannot afford to continue to subsidize educational costs at previous levels.
So at the end of the day, UC and Cal State have stood firm for "academic quality", others are happy that this high-priced option has disappeared. But the question remains – what of the students who are being turned away from the community college system because of falling state budgets? This agreement may or may not have been the best, or even a good, solution to the problem. But what is a better solution? What are the options for the students when the state cannot make additional investments in education? Protecting the status quo is not really a very positive response in these times, and the state budget is not going to get better for a long, long time.