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Higher Education Watch
The Right Way to Pursue Social Justice in Academia

This is a big deal for higher education: Purdue University, a major research institution in Indiana, has acquired Kaplan University, an online education company that caters to non-traditional students. From the press release:

“Nearly 150 years ago, Purdue proudly accepted the land-grant mission to expand higher education beyond the wealthy and the elites of society,” President Mitch Daniels said. “We cannot honor our land-grant mission in the 21st century without reaching out to the 36 million working adults, 750,000 of them in our state, who started but did not complete a college degree, and to the 56 million Americans with no college credit at all.”

Many colleges today are focused on dismantling inequality within their student bodies through diversity bureaucracies and safe spaces and boutique cultural liberalism. A far more productive approach would be to do what Purdue is attempting here: Invest more in the public at large, and expand educational offerings to the vast swaths of the population who have thus far been left left behind by the K-12-to-elite-college meritocratic escalator. Hopefully other university presidents learn something from Mitch Daniels.

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  • Makaden

    Okay, but I want to recognize the economic interest and pressures that are on universities before I assign altruistic motives. We have far too many doctoral degrees being offered, and far too many students being admitted to college that, quite frankly, don’t belong there. Just trying to prop up a bureaucratic administrative wasteland and the “boutique liberalism” feeding parasitically off of it is not a solution, no matter what feel-good motives are assigned to it. Plus the question of value to the consumer. And, the most important factor: IT’S NOT AFFORDABLE.

    • Tom

      Who cares why they’re doing it? If it, over the long term, allows people more opportunities to excel and develop their skills, good on them. Also, if they price the online courses below their traditional courses (as they should; one of the biggest scams of higher education is online courses costing more than in-person ones), affordability isn’t nearly as much of a problem.

      • Makaden

        And we can withhold judgment until we see how it turns out. But, as you say, the reality doesn’t fit your ideal at this point.

        Additionally, your response doesn’t address the question of value. For the limited purposes of job-seeking, if everyone has a college degree, does anyone have a college degree? Relatedly, grade inflation and extremely liberal admissions policies mean that we have a very watered down piece of paper, when (and if) one graduates, combined with a very hefty student loan bill.

        Good ideas are only good if they hold up under consideration of relevant data. My assumptions are “what are the relevant tradeoffs?,” which requires good data. I have learned from folks like Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams to not place value on policies because they seem good in the abstract.

      • f1b0nacc1

        I understand the point you are making, but let me offer two concerns:

        1) Simply increasing the number of degrees out there isn’t necessarily going to help anyone. Ill-prepared students with worthless ‘studies’ degrees aren’t going to have any advantages in the job markets (and they won’t be developing their skills, they will simply be acquiring credentials that will be devalued as they are more widely distributed), and they will be getting these degrees at the price of unsustainable debt.

        2) While I certainly endorse your support of people trying to develop their skills and excel, is college always (or even often) the best way to do this? Shouldn’t we be encouraging (and incentivizing) people to pursue other avenues than simply the one that has become the go-to default in the last 50-60 years?

        Again, I am not arguing with the overall thrust of your comment, but I am not so sure that this is best way to pursue your laudable goals.

        • Andrew Allison

          Here’s a thought: acknowledge that the only value of a baccalaureate degree is to get past the job qualification screen, and give one to anybody who graduates high school.

          • f1b0nacc1

            How about banning discrimination for non-work-related educational credentials? Simpler and it doesn’t further inflate diplomas

        • Tom

          I don’t think it’s the best way, but I think it’s better than the system we have now, which is the critical issue–and, also, we don’t know how Purdue is going to price these courses. As I mentioned above, if they do the sensible thing and lower prices, this will reduce the overall debt burden.
          Furthermore, while I share your assessment of the utility of grievance studies, those are not the sort of courses that will be offered online.

          • f1b0nacc1

            You are making many assumptions, and I am not sure that they are justified.

            Why would keeping the prices lower be ‘the sensible thing’ for Purdue? It might be a nice thing to do, it might be a desirable policy goal, but there is no reason to state that it is ‘sensible’, especially for Purdue. Deliberately undercutting their bricks and mortar courses on price online isn’t always the best choice, and it is entirely possible to imagine (even if we might disagree with it) Purdue keeping their prices up so as not to cannibalize their offline offerings.

            Why would colleges NOT offer ‘grievance studies’ classes online? These courses have very little rigor, and thus are perfect for a low-interaction delivery system such as the internet. They are quite fashionable (always in the news), and thus would be easier to market, and one would have to assume that the creators and purveyors of those courses (who are skilled at nothing if not self-promotion) would be anxious to make them available online. In point of fact, if the university did NOT make them available online, they would likely face intense pressure from the “studies” departments to make them available lest they be accused of any number of ‘isms’ or “badthink”

            Fortunately for both of us, we should be able to see how this develops very shortly. It should be interesting, n’est-ce pas?

          • Jim__L

            That depends on the real reason for grievance studies — do they exist because people are interested in the subject matter, or do they exist because “undecided” isn’t a real major, and snowflakes who have no other useful aptitudes need something to do while they warehouse themselves and enjoy the amenities of our resort universities, at the expense of taxpayers, parents, or their future unemployable selves?

          • f1b0nacc1

            The departments that push this poison were created by ambitious academics who realized that they fastest way to gain power and influence in the ivory tower was to create their own new departments, which of course they would be the logical candidates to lead. This is nothing more than empire building on a very small scale.

            As to why students move into them, the reason strikes me as relatively simple. The departments have almost no academic rigor, and thus tend to be a great place to go if you don’t want to do a lot of work, and still get your ticket stamped…

      • Andrew Allison

        Because, not only does it NOT provide most participants with an education but it also saddles them with enormous debt.

  • Boritz

    As someone else hinted in a reply to a different article, many of us would be pleased to see universities put aside for a moment their lofty goal of social justice and pursue criminal justice appropriately by arresting and prosecuting violent protesters who injure people and damage property. Social justice might be just a little bit out of reach as long as campus police watch violence with their hands in their pockets while chewing on a toothpick.

  • FriendlyGoat

    This is an interesting paint-over of “the for-profit private” onto “the not-for-profit public” and vice versa in higher education.
    See more detail at

    It is not a definition of “The Right Way to Pursue Social Justice in Academia”. It appears to be a rescue of Kaplan (and perhaps its students) from dire straits and the acquisition of a packaged——but, so far, questionable—–business model by Purdue.

  • Fat_Man

    Mitch Daniels is an interesting guy. Unlike most college presidents, he is not a professional academic administrator. He was previously Governor of Indiana. He was also OMB director under bush 43 and a senior executive at Eli Lilly.

    This is an interesting move. Apparently, Purdue is not putting any upfront money into the deal. Kaplan is not a pure on-line model. It has class rooms all over the country, which is not a bad thing. I personally believe that the way forward in higher eduction is a mixed model, where some things like lectures and class discussion can be held on-line, but other things like group and individual tutorials are held in meat space.

    • D4x

      Under Daniels’ leadership, Purdue has managed to still be a university fairly untainted by the SJ madness. This is certainly a better future for Kaplan University than if it been included in the sale of WaPo to Amazon’sBezos!

  • Andrew Allison

    The Purdue plan is NOT to pursue social justice in academia, it’s to replace the students who are figuring out that, for most of them, higher education is a scam designed to enrich academia with borrowed money.

    • Makaden

      As Jonathan Haidt has opined, universities can pursue social justice or truth as the ultimate goal. They cannot pursue both.

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