Community Colleges

California Community Colleges End Controversial Deal With Kaplan U.

August 25, 2010

California's community-college system has canceled a controversial agreement that would have allowed students at some colleges to earn credit for discounted online courses at Kaplan University.

The 112-campus community-college system is severely overcrowded, and officials saw the November agreement as a way to make it easier for students to get classes they need. For Kaplan, the agreement promised a boost of credibility and a ready pool of new students, who would be able to take certain online courses at a 42-percent discount.

But at a time of intense scrutiny of for-profit colleges, the arrangement between the nation's largest public-college system and a prominent for-profit college drew complaints from faculty groups and others. Critics argued the system was endorsing Kaplan, and they said it could be difficult for students who transferred to the state's public universities to receive credit for Kaplan courses.

The agreement was more an idea than reality: In nine months, few colleges, if any, had cleared Kaplan courses for students to take for credit under the deal. In a letter last week canceling the agreement, a community-college official said the community colleges had failed to secure agreements with California State University and the University of California to automatically accept the Kaplan courses.

"Without these transfer agreements, the [agreement] could have a negative effect on students and the community-college system," Barry A. Russell, the system's vice chancellor for academic affairs, wrote to Kaplan's president.

In a written statement, Kaplan said it was disappointed by the system's decision. "We remain committed to providing a solution for students seeking to complete their programs on time," the statement says. "We will continue to foster relationships with California community colleges and to look for innovative ways to help students meet their academic and career goals."

A Bad Deal for Students?

Some who had criticized the agreement cheered the decision to cancel it, saying that even at a discount, the Kaplan courses were a bad deal for students. Community-college courses in California cost $26 per credit hour, the lowest in the country, while Kaplan's discounted courses would have cost about $216 per credit hour.

"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," said Deborah Frankle Cochrane, program director at the Institute for College Access and Success.

The agreement was a smart business move by Kaplan, said Scott Lay, president of the Community College League of California, a lobbying group for the community-college system. The company intended to use its discounted price for online courses as a loss leader to make students familiar with Kaplan, he said.

But at the same time, many who work at community colleges were angered by the agreement, Mr. Lay said, especially where it coincided with a billboard campaign by Kaplan University's sister college, Kaplan College. The message of that campaign, aimed at attracting new students, essentially played down the quality of a community-college education, Mr. Lay said. (A Kaplan representative said the ads did not disparage community colleges, citing one ad that said, "Cuts in Education? Not at Kaplan College!")