I’m in Barcelona for the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival on the Future of Learning, Freedom and the Web. It’s overlapping with the OpenEd conference, the premiere gathering for the global open educational resources community, featuring such edtech luminaries as David Wiley, Brian Lamb and Scott Leslie, which I attended last year in Vancouver when I was researching DIY U.

A surprising attendee at the OpenEd conference whom I met at the cocktail party last night was Brian Ouellette, a Vice President at Kaplan University. It seems Kaplan (a subsidiary of the Washington Post Company whose solid profits subsidize, yes, the Washington Post: traded on the NYSE as WPO) is putting some money into an internal startup, a new assessment and accreditation business, focused on offering college credit for prior learning—including self-learning taking advantage of free Open Courseware such as that provided by MIT. This could be the long-awaited missing link for open courseware–everyone says that an open, democratic accreditation system is the Holy Grail that’s sorely missing in order for free and open courseware and peer-based learning networks to translate into affordable, accessible, higher education. Or it could be the Evil Empire taking over and strangling the edupunk movement.

This is the same Kaplan, after all, that’s currently under fire from Congress for aggressively targeting vets
and the subject of a federal false claims whistleblower lawsuit by 3 of its own former academic advisors.
not to mention new regulations from the Department of Education challenging the poor graduation rates and debt burdens of the whole for-profit sector; regulations that this sector is fighting with millions of dollars in lobbying cash to Congress; and also apparently fighting by misleading their students that the regulations would take away all of their federal aid, leading to tens of thousands of comment letters from students based on bad information.

They are also the same Kaplan who are the authors of an amazing viral video ad that says everything that needs to be said about the future of higher education. And they are part of a sector that already enrolls 10 percent of all students, and is growing several times faster in enrollment than the traditional higher education sector.

Brian wouldn’t comment officially on any of these issues. But I bared my soul to him over some tapas: I believe that the for-profit sector in higher ed has the ability and the resources to be innovative, as this freelance accreditation idea shows. They also have the right students in mind–the working adults, the veterans, the first in their families to go to college. I believe that they shouldn’t have to pressure or trick people into buying their product. If the sector doesn’t clean up its act and submit itself to real regulation, how can they ever earn the public’s trust?

3 Responses to “For-Profits and Open Education Make Uneasy Bedfellows in Barcelona”

  1. Josh Baron says:

    This is tremendously interesting/exciting/scary news! I completely agree with you that a model for assessing and credentialing self-directed learning experiences, such as those facilitated through OER, is the Holly Grail and possibly the disruptive force that could send higher education the way of Tower Records (ala the impact of iTunes on the music industry). I’m generally very supportive of the work of for-profits in the higher education space and see them as having brought many innovations to this sector. This said, I wonder how they will balance their primary objective, a profit, with the need to create a very rigorous assessment process in which some students will not succeed (and thus maybe not pay…or pay as much).

    Without question though, if this becomes a reality it will racket up the pressure on traditional higher education to change and innovate which, in my opinion, is a good thing.


  2. Great post and thanks for sharing. I’m concerned about this degree race we seem to be in and it appears it might be a race to the bottom. A Univ of Phoenix degree isn’t worth that much and I would assume the Kaplan one wouldn’t be either (although they will convince you with commercials, recruiter pressure, etc while your resume goes to the bottom of the pile).
    I think it’s smart to teach people to be leaders and problem solvers. I also think there must be a more affordable way to get people to start doing/making.

  3. luis says:

    The utubersidad ( http://utubersidad.com ) project is an open source initiative with the purpose of granting easy access to the huge amount of educational videos uploaded at Youtube.com.

    The thousands of available videos in our website, from Astronomy to Zoology are free to view, organized by subject and reviewed before being included.

    The site is currently in beta testing so we can asses its usability. Your opinion is of great value to us and we invite you to visit our site and make comments and suggestions about its usefulness as a didactic support resource. The quantity and quality of videos will grow thanks to your recommendations benefiting all the Spanish speaking educational community.

Leave a Reply