I’m waiting for Tressie McMillan Cottom’s analysis of the (rather shocking) news today that Purdue University is buying Kaplan University (and supposedly turning it into a public university-of-sorts) before I say too much. (I’m thinking this has a lot to do with “skills,” “the employability narrative,” privatization, and prestige – but really, I’m leaving that part for Tressie.)
I do want to jot down some notes about the Kaplan Inc business and its network of investments, people, products, and practices. Kaplan is, after all, one of the companies that I have long thought might be a powerful “ed-tech mafia” akin to how some describe PayPal founders and early execs and their influence in the direction Silicon Valley has taken.
Note: investigating ed-tech's version of the “PayPal Mafia” is the focus of my Spencer Education Journalism Fellowship. This subdomain (network.hackeducation.com) is where I'm storing some of my preliminary research.
For-Profit Schools: Some Kaplan History
Kaplan Inc is a subsidiary of Graham Holdings Company, which was formerly known as The Washington Post Company (until The Washington Post portion was sold to Jeff Bezos in 2013). The company was founded in 1938 as the Stanley H Kaplan Co. (yes, by Stanley H Kaplan) as a tutoring company that promised it could help students succeed on the SAT; and test prep remains a major portion of the company’s business today.
But Purdue did not buy that portion. It bought Kaplan University, which was founded in 1900 as the business training chain of schools Hamilton College. Hamilton College was acquired in 1998 by Quest Education Corporation, which was acquired in turn by Kaplan Inc in 2000. This acquisition was rebranded as Kaplan University in 2007.
Kaplan University is just one part of the Kaplan Higher and Professional Education subsidiary, as Kaplan Inc has bought many, many for-profit schools and training programs. In 2000, it acquired the American Institute of Commerce, for example, another business training college (this one founded in 1937); these were rebranded as Kaplan College. (It sold 38 Kaplan College campuses to Education Corporation of America, another for-profit university company in 2015). In 2005, Kaplan acquired Asia Pacific Management Institute, a for-profit headquartered in Singapore – now rebranded to Kaplan Singapore. It acquired Aspect Education, now Kaplan International English, in 2006; this company offers English-language learning courses in the UK. In 2006, it also acquired Tribeca Learning, which offers financial and real estate services training in Australia. In 2014, Kaplan acquired Dev Bootcamp, the modern equivalent of those early twentieth-century career colleges: the coding bootcamp.
Kaplan Inc and Education Technology Investments
Kaplan Inc also has an investment arm. (Of course it does.) Among the education technology companies Kaplan Ventures has funded:
Kaplan also operated an ed-tech accelerator program with TechStars from 2013 to 2014. Among the participating companies:
- Grockit (Grockit was acquired by Kaplan in 2013)
Among the education investments of Kaplan’s parent company, Graham Holdings:
(These are not complete lists of these companies’ investment portfolios.)
The Kaplan Social Graph
If you look at that list of investments, you can begin to see that there’s a powerful network of influential players in education technology who are connected to Kaplan Inc money. Powerful people and powerful companies.
A couple more names:
- Jonathan Grayer – formerly the CEO of Kaplan, he’s now the CEO of Weld North
- Jose Ferreira – formerly a Kaplan exec and the founder of the mind-reading robo tutor in the sky company Knewton
- Jason Palmer – formerly a Kaplan and a Gates Foundation exec, now the head of New Markets Venture Partners’ education fund
- Stuart Udell – formerly the president of Kaplan K12 learning and now the head of the for-profit online charter school chain, K12 Inc
- Bror Saxburg – currently the Chief Learning Officer of Kaplan and formerly the Chief Learning Officer at K12 Inc
- Charles Thornburgh – former Kaplan exec and CEO/founder of Civitas Learning
(Obviously this not a complete list of Kaplan execs.)
Kaplan Inc, "New University," and the Future of For-Profit Education
No really. I am waiting for Tressie's response to the news as I know it'll be the best analysis. What I see in this collection of products, practices, people, politics is a particular future that many in the ed-tech world are pushing for (through funding, through narratives, through policy):
Test prep. Data mining and analytics. Online education. Charter school chains. College chains. Higher ed as career colleges. Coding bootcamps. Credentialing.